House On Target To Approve Budget Bills Following Marathon Of Votes

By Terri Jo Neff

The 60-member House stayed on the floor until nearly 11 p.m. Thursday to pass 10 of the 11 bills in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget package, and will return at 9 a.m. Friday to debate and vote on HB2898, which covers K-12 legislation.

The bills which already passed and are being transmitted to the Senate include Gov. Doug Ducey’s long-championed flat rate income tax, a $1.3 billion tax cut, and liability payments to state pension funds. In addition, the bills include key legislation related to COVID-19 vaccine passports and a governor’s use of state of emergency powers.

But getting 90 percent of the bills passed in a single day when there are 60 members was not without controversy. It took the Senate from Tuesday morning to nearly 2:30 a.m. Wednesday to complete its passage of the 11-bill budget package, and that was with only 30 members.

As with the Senate, the House Republican caucus has a two member cushion over Democrats, meaning the Republicans can pass a bill without any “aye” votes from across the aisle. After doing some quick math, House Speaker Rusty Bowers made a last minute motion to change the rules, severely limiting the amount of time each lawmaker had to debate or comment on bills and votes.

One thing the rules could not do, however, was limit the number of amendments Democrats could offer to the bills. And each amendment came with its own process of debate and comment, something the Democrat caucus utilized to the full extent. But in the end, the 10 bills were passed on a 31 to 29 margin. The K-12 bill, however, has some Republican opposition which had not been resolved as of Thursday night.

The Senate was also back at work Thursday to address a few dozen bills members still want to see passed.

Among those are 22 bills which Ducey vetoed on May 28 when he became frustrated with the lack of legislative attention to the budget bills. Instead of propelling legislators into action, the governor’s veto action temporarily polarized some Republican Senators who objected to elements of the budget package, at least until all 16 came on board this week to pass the bills.

The Senate has reintroduced Ducey’s 22 vetoed bills -several of which initially passed with bipartisan support. But in an unexpected move Thursday, 25 senators also successfully voted for a bipartisan override of one of the vetoed bills.

Senators admitted the override vote -only the third in Arizona history and the first since the 1981- was a symbolic message to Ducey and future governors that the state has three equal branches of government. The bill itself however will not be enacted unless the House also overrides the veto by a two-thirds margin.

Sen. Tyler Pace, a Republican like the governor, was one of the supporters of the veto override.

“I stand with the belief that the Legislature has an authority to override, and that authority can be used in times when the Legislature feels that a policy or bill that was otherwise vetoed should become law,” he said in explaining his motivation.

Even Senate President Karen Fann voted for the bipartisan override despite her wish it had been handled differently by her members. “I know where you guys are coming from, I understand your feelings,” Fann said. “This is a very big thing that we are doing right now.”

Speaker Bowers is expected to have his members tackle the issue of the 22 vetoed bills and the possible override once the final budget bill passes. In addition, they need to take up SB1783 to address changes to small business tax legislation in light of the new flat income tax Arizona will have.

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