Arizona Legislature updates: Lawmakers adjourn for final time after passing water, school voucher bills
The Arizona Legislature had two major bills to consider as it convened for a final session Friday: $1 billion in spending to shore up the state’s water supply and a massive expansion of taxpayer-funded vouchers to all schoolchildren.
The final full day of the 55th Legislature also was the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision guaranteeing women a constitutional right to an abortion.
Both the water bill and the voucher expansion passed in the late evening hours, even as the Senate had to evacuate its chamber because of abortion rights protesters pounding on the building windows and doors.
Lawmakers on Thursday had passed a nearly $18 billion spending plan with bipartisan support. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
The budget bill and all the others now go to Gov. Doug Ducey, who already has signaled his support for what he calls a budget that “will truly leave Arizona better than we found it.”
Follow coverage at the state Capitol by Arizona Republic reporters here.
Roe v. Wade overturned: What is the law for abortions in Arizona now?
Budget conundrum:Arizona K-12 schools are getting more money. But there’s a catch
5 takeaways: What to know about Arizona’s nearly $18B budget
Set for Friday vote: Arizona on cusp of largest school voucher program in the US
12:55 a.m.: They’re outta here
The Senate adjourned sine die at 12:22 a.m.
The House soon followed, at 12:26 a.m.
Sine die is Latin for “without a day,” signaling this was the last adjournment of the 55th Arizona Legislature’s second session.
This may not be the last time we’ll see this gang together: There is some talk of a special session to deal with lifting a school spending cap.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
12:22 a.m.: Emotional night in Senate
Senators shared heartful goodbyes and some tears as they used their late-night speaking time for the last few bills they passed for the 2022 session.
Some senators were leaving the chamber on their way to possible election in the House, while others were leaving the Legislature entirely, either because they’re running for higher office or found other jobs.
As close as they’ve been while working together this year, lawmakers had a kind of bonding experience earlier in the evening as a chaotic protest of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that struck down Roe v. Wade resulted in a security alert and temporary shutdown of the night’s proceedings.
State troopers tear-gassed protesters just outside the House and Senate buildings, and the senators were moved from the Senate floor to a hearing room to finish their work.
“We didn’t give up; we didn’t just run home and hide,” said Senate Majority Leaders Rick Gray, R-Sun City. “We finished our job and did the work of the people.”
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, who’s leaving this year to run for justice of the peace in Pima County, talked about some fellow members she enjoyed working with, including Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale.
Joining forces on a bill to help child abuse victims was “incredibly meaningful,” Steele said, adding that her four years in the Legislature “was one of the most meaningful experiences in my entire life.”
Many of the senators thanked Senate President Karen Fann for her leadership and friendship.
“You were a mentor to me. I cannot thank you enough,” said Sen. Rosanna Gabaldón, D-Green Valley.
Gray said that when the going got tough, Fann burrowed into the facts and made the right decisions.
“I just want to tell everyone … what a tremendous job you’ve done,” he said.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, had a gift of flowers and a gallon of wine brought in for Fann and commended her for ordering and overseeing the partisan audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County.
“The entire world looked at you and, I’m sure, were as amazed as we were at your strength,” she said.
Collegial and bipartisan warmth carried the night as sentimental members forgot the sniping and anger they had sometimes levied at each other.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who’s leaving to run for secretary of state, said if she had to be stuck with any other senator on a desert island, it would be Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.
“I do appreciate that back and forth, and that’s why I’d want to be on it,” she said. “We could argue the whole time.”
With tears in her eyes, Ugenti-Rita gushed that her fellow senators “made it a delight to be here. I don’t want to leave this place, this microphone, because it’s over.”
Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, said he was looking forward to having “fun” in the House next year with Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Phoenix.
Contreras also spoke with visible emotion about his experience in the Senate since 2015, (he was also in the House from 2013-14), saying it’s been a “hella great eight years here.”
He spoke briefly about the security alert because of the protesters. He said the tears in his eyes were out of anger, because his wife and children were in the building and he was “scared to all hell” for them.
“What I had to endure today wasn’t cool,” he said.
Fann, who’s been a House or Senate member since 2011 and has worked in politics for 25 years, wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke of her peers.
“We have seen you get married, we have seen you have babies… We’ve had a couple that we’ve lost,” she said. “You guys are amazing.”
With that, at 12:22 a.m., she ended the session to a round of applause.
— Ray Stern
12:15 a.m. Saturday: ‘Critical race theory’ bill resurfaces in final minutes
A much-debated “critical race theory” bill was resurrected in the final hours of the session. It bars schools from offering any curriculum, lessons or guest speakers who promote one race or ethnic group as superior to another and sets out penalties for teachers and schools who are found to have violated those guidelines.
The bill, now Senate Bill 1412, passed on a 16-10 vote. But it didn’t get the final vote it needed to move to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.
It echoed similar bills introduced this year in statehouses across the nation as Republicans tried to capitalize on what they called a “woke culture” that emphasized racial division over racial harmony. Democrats, in Arizona and elsewhere, said the bill itself is divisive and could accelerate a teacher exodus.
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said the legislation could block instruction on some of American’s darkest chapters, leading to an inability to learn from history.
“It’s important that our history be told without any editing,” she said. “There are a lot of things that have happened to my Native American ancestors that I would like us to never have to live through again, like genocide and boarding schools. So I ask you, why is it important to put a gag order on the history of the United States?”
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the bill has been wrongly demonized and is intended to ensure students get a straightforward presentation of key educational topics.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
11:20 p.m.: House ends its work
The Arizona House of Representatives has ended its session for the year after a tumultuous night briefly interrupted by protests close by and after passing a major piece of legislation that will allocate $1.4 billion toward water issues in the Grand Canyon State.
Minutes after the vote, as lawmakers began taking selfies, Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, offered a lighthearted apology to his colleagues for a tense few days of work that kept lawmakers up late and low on sleep. As speaker pro tempore, Grantham leads the chamber through its work.
“If I offended you, too bad,” Grantham joked. “I’ll see some of you back here next year.”
As is tradition, lawmakers ended the session with speeches on the floor about their accomplishments, and they displayed short memories, forgetting the partisan battles that got them there.
“At the end of the day, we all wanted the same thing,” said Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake. Blackman will not return to the chamber next year as he’s running for a seat in Congress. “A state that our kids and families could grow up in and have the opportunities that we have. It is such a privilege to be here representing the people back home, and fighting the good fight with you.”
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, in his distinctly measured, humorous and grandfatherly style, closed the session thanking his colleagues, House staff and the governor’s legislative team.
Bowers is running for a seat in the state Senate next year.
The fourth-generation Arizonan offered an ode to the state.
“All across the state there is enormous value in the people, the diversity, the education, the experience,” Bowers said. “There is nothing that we can’t do — I include with faith in God, but that’s not requisite for every belief — when we respect each other, when we endeavor with our true and best selves to serve each other and our country. … What a marvel it is to be part of the tapestry of Arizona.”
He officially declared the House in recess until the Senate finished its business.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d invite you to go on home,” Bowers said to House members who gave him a standing ovation. First, however, Bowers hit the green carpet of the House chamber — removing his tie — for a quick pushup contest to wrap the session.
— Stacey Barchenger
11 p.m.: Lawmakers pass Ducey’s water bill, add conservation funds
Arizona lawmakers on Friday night fulfilled Gov. Doug Ducey’s request for a $1 billion program to shore up the state’s water supply, passing legislation in the session’s waning moments.
The measure, which passed the House 48-1 and the Senate 25-1, budgeted a third of the money for the coming budget year, with the rest to come over the next two years. The addition of water conservation funds ultimately pushed the total higher.
Ducey originally proposed a new state authority to dole out money for projects such as water desalination in Mexico in exchange for Colorado River flows, water reuse within the state or in collaboration with neighboring states, or other new sources.
The Legislature altered that program to use the existing Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, and to include water conservation projects as well.
“Arizona is putting our money where our mouth is” to protect the state’s people and economy from shortage, said Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford.
The debate ran into the final night of the session, as Democrats, whose votes Republicans needed, insisted that the program include a meaningful investment in water conservation now, instead of only major infrastructure projects that could take a decade or longer to address water insecurity.
An amendment creating a conservation fund to support everything from turf grass removal to groundwater recharge ultimately passed, and Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said it would pay out $200 million.
Arizona Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke had urged lawmakers to approve the legislation.
Besides desalination, the money could help with projects such as a water recycling partnership that his department is exploring with a Southern California water provider.
Rep. Andres Cano, D-Tucson, had opposed the legislation in committee but ultimately supported it because of what he called “historic dollars” for water conservation.
10:30 p.m.: Voucher bill goes to governor
A 16-11 vote in the Senate creates the first universal school voucher bill in the nation, expanding the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program to all 1.1 million Arizona schoolchildren.
The approval of House Bill 2853 came after procedural disagreement earlier in the day, when Senate President Karen Fann took the bill straight to a final vote, skipping over the normal step at which lawmakers can debate a bill and propose amendments.
The bill passed the House earlier this week and is expected to be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, who has long been a proponent of wider school choice.
The program provides 90% of the money the state would otherwise spend to educate a child in a public school to a scholarship that can be used for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses or other education-related expenses.
The average scholarship is $7,000, leading critics to say it will benefit primarily wealthy families who can already afford private-school tuition. They fear the money won’t be enough for lower-income families to afford private school rates.
Democrats protested the procedural workaround and the intent of the bill.
Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said the bill is a ploy to defund public education, arguing there is not enough in Arizona’s education budget to fund two systems: a public school system and a private system funded by taxpayer dollars.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, amplified that point. The state budget, he said, is projected to have only a $14 million cushion in a few years and predicted the expansion of vouchers could quickly eat up that surplus.
But Republicans said the bill is a win for school choice and argued parents should be free to send their children to whichever school or education option that is best for them.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, pointed to research that shows students who have benefited from vouchers have posted higher college enrollment rates.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
8:40 p.m.: Senate calls recess, cites security threat
Senate President Karen Fann abruptly called a recess to Senate work and evacuated lawmakers and staff to the Senate basement after protesters attending a rally after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade pounded on Senate windows and doors.
Tear gas was deployed at the protesters.
“We have a security threat outside,” Fann said, trying to hurry along a handful of public-school supporters who had unfurled a banner expressing their disgust with the Senate’s approval of universal vouchers.
People soon returned to the Senate chambers on the second floor of the building and milled around a bit, then moved to a first-floor hearing room where the air was not so irritating.
Senate President Karen Fann called it “a blatant attempt at an insurrection.”
— Mary Jo Pitzl
4:10 p.m.: Name change for Grand Canyon features?
The layered geological peaks within the Grand Canyon weren’t always named Vishnu Temple, Thor or Zoraster. There was a time when they were known by the names Native Americans gave them.
State Sen. Paul Boyer learned of this when he did a mule trip into the depths of Grand Canyon National Park last December. The guide on his mule train told the riders about the now long-neglected Native American names, abandoned in favor of names drawn from Hindu, Greek, Latin and Norse traditions
The lesson stuck with him, and earlier this year, Boyer introduced legislation to ask the federal government to restore the peaks’ original names.
“I thought it would be a point of pride to revert back to what the names used to be,” Boyer, R-Glendale, said of his Senate Concurrent Memorial 1003.
The memorial is akin to a postcard to the federal government, letting the United States Board on Geographic Names know that the Arizona Legislature would like to see the parks’ geographic features be renamed with traditional Native American names.
The idea didn’t fly with Boyer’s colleagues in the House of Representatives, however. They rejected SCM 1003 on a 26-27 vote.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
3 p.m.: Politics of Roe v. Wade take center stage
The business of the day is to wrap up the legislative calendar for the year, but lawmakers also took a chance to respond to the precedent-changing ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a woman’s right to an abortion. (That leaves conflicting laws on the books in Arizona.)
Senate Republican leadership praised the ruling.
“We are praising the good Lord today and thanking SCOTUS for their courage in the face of incredible and physical and political threat,” the statement reads. “Arizona State Senate Republicans will continue to fight for the sanctity of life, the rule of law, morals, family values and against radical Democrats who aim to change society in some very dark and disturbing ways.”
On Friday afternoon, Democratic party leaders took a break from work at the Capitol to join Planned Parenthood leaders to condemn the court ruling — and use it to mobilize voters ahead of the midterm elections.
“I have a message for everyone,” Sen. Raquel Terán, the party chair and a state senator from Phoenix, said outside the House of Representatives. “We will not calm down. We are feeling angry. We are feeling hurt. We are feeling betrayed. And we are allowed to feel this way when the government is more concerned about regulating our bodies than our guns. Make no mistake, today is the day Republicans have worked for for decades.”
There was an added law enforcement presence at the Capitol on Friday ahead of planned protests over the court decision. State troopers had begun blocking off roads and parking lots by early afternoon.
— Stacey Barchenger
12:15 p.m.: Prison agency briefly got the death penalty
In a stinging 19-34 vote, the House of Representatives rejected a continuation of the state prisons department but then quickly reversed course to revive it, with more oversight.
The lopsided vote against Senate Bill 1401 was a statement from both Republicans and Democrats about the performance of the state Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
Led by Rep. Walt Blackman, a self-described “corrections hawk”, lawmakers rebuked the agency that has come under intense scrutiny after escapes, claims of prisoner maltreatment, questionable spending and inoperable prison locks.
“I am going to have to vote ‘no’ on this simply because of what I know about this agency,” Blackman, R-Snowflake said. “We do have good correctional officers, and there are people who need to be in prison.”
But he reeled off a list of issues that he has questions about and argued that extending the agency’s life for eight years was too much to ask.
He was joined by Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, who pointed out the agency ignored the recommendations in two state auditor general reports and then went behind Blackman’s back to avoid his scrutiny.
That is “gross bureaucracy at its best,” Kaiser said.
In less than an hour, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who shared in the critique of the agency, brought back the bill for reconsideration. She added an amendment that will require the auditor general to do an annual review of various aspects of the agency’s performance.
That addition flipped attitudes, and the House approved the eight-year extension on a 48-4 vote.
The bill has already passed the Senate but will need another vote in that chamber because of the change made in the House.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
10:45 a.m. Friday: Lawmakers return to work, rested but ready to wrap up
Like schoolchildren on the last day of class, antsy lawmakers returned to work Friday morning to tackle two major issues left on the agenda.
“I can sense the urge to be … excited that we perhaps are on our final day of voting,” Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, told his colleagues as they started the day’s work. He begged lawmakers to stay focused after two long days of work Wednesday and Thursday so they could wrap up the session Friday, potentially in just a few hours.
“We’re going to turn phones off, we’re going to sit at our desks,” he scolded from the dais at the front of the House of Representatives.
The Senate is expected to soon resume its deliberations on the major water policy bill and expansion of school vouchers.
— Stacey Barchenger
10:20 p.m.: Vouchers poised for Senate vote Friday
A bill that would give Arizona the largest voucher program in the nation advanced Thursday to a vote of the full Senate, but only after a prolonged debate among members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The argument over Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program started late, ran long and frayed the tempers of lawmakers as well as some members of the public speaking on the topic. House Bill 2853 would expand Arizona’s ESA program to all of the state’s 1.1 million schoolchildren, providing a taxpayer-funded voucher that parents can use for private school tuition, homeschooling or a variety of other educational purposes. It passed 6-3, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.
The Senate is expected to take up the voucher debate Friday. President Karen Fann announced the Senate would wrap up work Thursday night after doing a few final reads on bills. The $1 billion water legislation still needs work, and lawmakers are tired from Wednesday night’s (and Thursday morning’s) marathon session.
The House already had announced it was leaving and would return at 10 a.m. Friday.
HB 2853 passed the House onWednesday, also on a party line vote that was greeted with shouts of “shame, shame” from public-school supporters.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
8:35 p.m.: Big boost in housing funds
Facing an ongoing housing crisis, the Arizona Legislature’s bipartisan budget put more money toward affordable housing programs than had been allocated for years.
The budget moves $75 million to the Arizona Department of Housing, with the biggest chunk — $60 million into the Housing Trust Fund — to be distributed as grants for projects across the state. One-third of that total is earmarked for rural counties.
Another $4 million of the total will go to affordable housing programs on the Navajo and Hopi tribal nations, adding to a federal grant of $134.6 million announced by U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly last month.
By comparison, the state deposited about $16 million in the Housing Trust Fund in the past three years.
Tomas Robles, co-executive director for the activist group LUCHA, compared the housing funding to the proposed $335 million to be spent on a border wall.
“This choice does not prioritize the needs of our most vulnerable communities,” Robles said.
Reps. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, and Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, who filed an unsuccessful bill earlier this year that would have put $89 million into the trust fund, both praised the new appropriation.
“With a historic investment into the Arizona Housing Trust Fund, we will be able to protect Arizonans facing hardships,” Chávez said.
Kaiser said he strongly supported the fund deposit. Kaiser also saw the passage of a bill he sponsored that forms a bipartisan committee to study the state’s housing shortage and look for ways to “mitigate its causes.”
The bill was passed as an emergency measure, allowing the committee to begin meeting immediately. It’s supposed to provide a report to the Senate by Jan. 1.
A Department of Housing study showed the state needs an estimated 250,000 new housing units to keep up with demand, the department’s director, Tom Simplot, said in an October op-ed.
The new budget also adds $5 million for an alternative homeless transition services program and another homeless services pilot grant of $10 million that requires participating cities and towns to pitch in 50% of the state’s funding for any project.
Separately, the budget provides another $10 million to the East Valley Institute of Technology to construct and furnish a 64-bed transitional housing facility for foster youths aged 17 to 21.
— Ray Stern
7 p.m. Rental tax bill fails in the Senate
The Arizona Senate failed to pass a bill that could have lessened the tax paid by people who rent homes and apartments in the state.
Senate Bill 1116 would have prohibited cities and towns from charging sales tax on landlords who rent property. The tax rate can vary by municipality. Its supporters said eliminating it would amount to a benefit for renters, who pay the tax passed on by landlords, and who face high rents due to demand as well as inflation drawing more from their budgets.
Opponents, who included a group of developers, said it would remove a financial incentive for municipalities to allow multifamily zoning that could ease the rental shortage in some cities.
The bill failed on a 15-11 vote in the Senate, with only Republicans in favor. The House passed the bill 33-25 Wednesday.
The 16th Republican vote in the Senate, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, voted with Democrats against the bill, citing the cost to city revenues. A fiscal estimate on the bill said municipalities would lose more than $200 million in tax collections the first year it was fully implemented.
In Boyer’s district, that would have meant a $60 million cut to Phoenix’s revenues and $9 million cut in Glendale, the senator said, adding that money is necessary to fund public safety services at a time when shortages abound.
“They need more bodies, not less,” Boyer said.
— Stacey Barchenger
6:20 p.m.: Committees advance $1B in water spending
Arizona House and Senate natural resource committees advanced proposals Thursday afternoon that would empower the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona to dole out $1 billion allocated over the next three years to shore up the state’s water supply.
The plan roughly follows a proposal that Gov. Doug Ducey made at the start of the session but uses the existing agency that handles federal grants and loans instead of creating a new water authority.
Most of the money would go to water augmentation and importation projects, such as seawater desalination in Mexico or water recycling. More than $200 million could go to conservation projects such as grants for drip irrigation installation on farms.
Federal officials last week warned that the seven states that share the Colorado River must produce a plan this summer to conserve roughly as much water as Arizona alone takes from the Colorado River — between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet — but a $1 billion investment will likely yield less.
A Mexican desalination plant that Arizona could support, in exchange for some of Mexico’s Colorado River water, would cost more than $2.5 billion and produce about 250,000 acre-feet a year.
The House committee voted 9-5 to send the legislation on for debate on the House floor, while the Senate committee approved it, 7-1.
— Brandon Loomis
4 p.m.: Fix for marijuana sales fails
Lawmakers killed a bill intended to resolve multiple issues involving Arizona’s marijuana dispensaries, including a testing requirement to ensure tainted products are not sold to the public.
House Bill 2050 went down on a 36-22 vote, four votes shy of the 40 needed to pass. It had previously won approval from the Senate, but House members, perhaps prodded by the dispensary lobby, declined to add their support.
Rep. Joanne Osborne, R-Goodyear, criticized the 11th-hour nature of the bill, which was done on a strike-everything amendment and had not been vetted in any committees, including the House health panel, which she chairs. Without that scrutiny, she said, it’s impossible to know if the bill will cause harm or fix problems.
The legislation was prompted after an Arizona Republic investigation found contaminated marijuana on dispensary shelves. The bill would have created a testing regimen, which Rep. Pamela Powers-Hannley, D-Tucson, called a common-sense protective measure for marijuana users, particularly those with medical ailments.
The bill also would have ironed out local zoning issues that could block the ability of holders of social-equity licenses to open shop.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
3:45 p.m.: After rest, lawmakers tackle final issues of session
With multiple references to sleep deprivation and eying the end of the session, lawmakers returned to the Capitol early Thursday afternoon to tackle a few remaining policy issues.
Committees in both the House and Senate are meeting to hammer out details of a bill that would determine how the budget’s $1 billion-plus investment in water can be spent, and who has authority to oversee that spending.
The Senate is also expected to consider a massive expansion to the state’s school voucher program before it adjourns.
But as can be the case in the Legislature as negotiations are ongoing, work is getting underway hours after it was scheduled, signaling another all-nighter in the making.
“Thank you for being patient today,” Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, told the committee she chairs, House Natural Resources, Energy and Water, as it began meeting at 3 p.m. “Lots of things happening, as you’re very much aware.”
— Stacey Barchenger
7 a.m.: Minutes after budget vote, Ducey shows support
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey applauded the first and only bipartisan budget of his tenure that caps his two terms in office.
“These investments demonstrate an unwavering commitment to do what the people of Arizona expect us to do: address today’s needs and prepare our state for the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead,” the governor said in a statement about 5:30 a.m. “This budget will truly leave Arizona better than we found it.”
The budget passed by lawmakers is billions more than the $14.2 billion Ducey proposed in spending in January and draws on an unexpected over $4 billion in surplus state revenues. It includes many of the governor’s priorities, including funding for water issues, border security, raises for state employees and a deposit into the rainy day fund, the state’s emergency bank account.
The state’s flush coffers reflect a vastly different financial reality than when Ducey became Arizona’s 23rd governor in 2015. The state had a projected $1 billion shortfall then.
As lawmakers ground through the budget slog until the sun rose on the state Capitol early Thursday, the governor was scheduled to be in Washington, D.C., with a group of about 250 high school students on a civics-focused trip sponsored by the Arizona Cardinals. He was expected to return to Arizona on Thursday. It is not yet known when he will sign the budget bills.
Ducey, who is term limited and cannot run again, leaves office in early 2023.
— Stacey Barchenger
5:45 a.m.: Senate OKs budget; end of session looms
Senators cast the final budget vote at 5:25 a.m. on the 165th day of the Legislature but not before indulging in some self-congratulation for producing a bipartisan $18 billion spending package.
The deal came together late Wednesday and resulted in an overnight session that no one really saw coming earlier in the day. Staffers arrived not realizing their work day would bleed well into Thursday.
As the Senate closed out its budget work with a series of bipartisan budget votes, lawmakers commented on the unusual moment.
“I think this is what most Arizonans wanted us to do tonight – to come together, to vote on a bipartisan budget,” said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix. “I hope this is a sign of what we can do in the future.”
Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said he had never really seen a bipartisan budget until today.
“It’s encouraging we have actually come together,” he said. Maybe, he added, there’s a lesson here: the value of compromise.
Ducey applauded the bipartisan work, although he only name-checked Republican leaders in a Twitter thread.
Not everyone was feeling warm and fuzzy about this kumbaya policy move.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, noted the nearly $5 billion increase in the budget from last year and said the across-the-aisle compromise cost too much.
“If there’s silver lining, though, it’s very reflective of everyone’s true colors,” she said. “At least the public will know who the conservatives are and who is not.”
She encouraged those who voted for the budget to campaign on their bipartisan move. And make sure you tell voters, she added, that the other side of the aisle will get half of everything.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
4:30 a.m.: House passes ‘historic’ budget bill
House Republicans and Democrats joined together for the first time in years to produce a bipartisan budget that boosts K-12 funding, pays off $1.5 billion in debt and provides long-awaited funding for a number of needs.
The House approved the last of 17 budget bills about 4 a.m.
The budget package is now being voted on by the Senate. if approved, it will head to Ducey for his signature or veto.
Republicans control the House by a single vote, and divisions within the GOP caused leaders to seek out Democrats’ votes to ensure the state would still be running past the budget deadline of June 30.
Several House members praised the budget’s passage as a significant achievement.
“Bipartisanship is alive,” Rep. César Chávez, D-Maryvale, said before voting for one of the bills.
After the last vote, House Majority Leader Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said he considered the bipartisan budget historic and that he couldn’t remember the last time Democrats and Republicans joined forces to produce a budget palatable to members of both parties.
The weeks of negotiations before the vote were sometimes hostile, sometimes collegial, and some GOP members wanted to leverage their own agendas until the last minute.
Democratic involvement made the rebellious Republican House members unnecessary in the end.
Toma noted that the budget included $1 billion in water infrastructure, another billion for roads and other infrastructure, $1.5 billion to pay down the state’s debt, and at the same time included the state’s biggest-yet expansion of a program that uses state money to subsidize private school tuition.
“It’s a big win,” he said.
Many of the votes passed with strong bipartisan majorities. It takes 31 votes to pass a House bill, and some “yes” vote tallies were in the 40s or low 50s. A bill that sets up a high-tech security system for schools passed 52-7, for instance, with one member not voting.
Some members disliked the budget, though, calling it “bloated.”
“It was the first time in its history that the a Republican majority has passed a Democratic budget,” said Rep. Jaqueline Parker, R-Mesa. “We spent $6 billion more this year than last year.”
Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, voted yes for the K-12 budget bill but insisted it was nothing like “historic.”
“It’s not a budget you can pass in the daylight,” she said. “We have $5 billion (in surplus funds) and oh, boy, we’ve put a little into education.”
But Marisol Garcia, vice president of the Arizona Education Association, said the bill shows that legislators have interest in “backfilling” the funding hole that has existed for more than a decade.
“It’s a better bill than we saw at the beginning of the day,” Garcia said, referring to the education bill that boosted K-12 funding. “It’s better than we saw last year.”
— Ray Stern
2:30 a.m. Bipartisan criminal-justice bill passes
The state House passed a criminal justice bill on a bipartisan vote that aims to improve investigations of police use-of-force incidents and allow women who give birth in jail to be released to a treatment center.
Sponsored by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, the bill would create a new division within the state Department of Public Safety that would independently investigate use-of-force incidents by Arizona police agencies and law enforcement officers suspected of committing a crime. Police agencies would have to either use the new Major Incident Division investigators, another police agency or a regional police task force to investigate use-of-force incidents.
Democratic Leader Rep. Reginald Bolding, R-Phoenix, said before voting for the bill that it would be an important measure to build up more trust provide “healing” in the community.
The bill also creates an Anti-Human Trafficking Grant Fund that would “keep our children safe,” according to Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake. The fund would be administered by the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, which would use the money for various state anti-trafficking programs.
A floor amendment by Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, added the provision about pregnant women in jail. The state corrections department would have to contract with a nonprofit organization and place up to 20 women in the program the first year, with up to 50 women per year placed in subsequent years. Children living at the center would be subject to separate security rules.
The bill was moved to the Senate.
— Ray Stern
12:50 a.m. Thursday: Democrats voting for budget
Arizona House Democrats announced that they had negotiated a deal with Republicans on a bipartisan budget featuring “significant new investment in K-12 public education and universities.”
Specifically, according to Democrats, they bargained away roughly $335 million for a border wall, which was to be presented in a separate bill, while picking up about $526 million of new money for K-12 funds — an 8.8% increase to permanent base funding. A provision that would have called for a tripling of tax credits for school tuition organizations was stripped out.
The budget also began the day with tens of millions of dollars for long-desired road projects on the Navajo Nation, which was likely put there to entice Democrats to vote for it, said Robbie Sherwood, Democratic spokesman in the House.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said the bipartisan budget evolved when Republicans offered Democrats more K-12 spending, agreed to hold back on some Republican bills, and split out bills that Democrats that did not agree with so they could be voted on.
The House was still voting on budget bills at about 12:30 a.m., with some members estimating it could go on to the wee hours of the morning. The early bills were passing with overwhelming bipartisan support not seen for many years.
— Ray Stern and Mary Jo Pitzl
10:45 p.m.: Senate jets through work
The Senate has started its work on the 18-bill budget package. In another sign this is the real deal: Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, who was excused from in-person attendance all session due to COVID-19 concerns, is present, voting from his office.
The Senate is racing through part of its agenda, moving through bills with hardly no discussion or objection from anyone. That’s perhaps another signal that a bipartisan deal was already agreed to.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
10:05 p.m.: A real bipartisan moment?
Could it be? A budget with both Republican AND Democratic votes? Not since the days of former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano has Arizona seen a spending plan that could seriously take that label.
But as budget work is dragging out through the nighttime hours, there is increasing talk that the final product will get across the finish line with more than just a token Democrat voting “yes.” That also means we’re likely to see Republicans in the unusual position of voting “no.”
The proof will come in the votes — and no formal ones have happened as of yet. But with the smell of pizza wafting out of the House, and plates of Chinese takeout on Senate desks, indications are both the House and Senate will press on tonight, and for as long as it takes, to get a budget completed and on its way to Gov. Doug Ducey.
— Mary Jo Pitzl
7:45 p.m. Wednesday: Lawmakers turn attention to a deal
A sure sign the Senate is getting serious about voting on a budget: Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, has returned from a business trip in Alaska. Pace left several weeks ago but promised to come back with one day’s notice when budget voting got serious.
His vote is important, as the Republicans can’t afford to lose even one of its 16 members or they would have to turn to Democrats for support. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has harshly criticized the budget as spending too much, especially on a list of 40-odd road projects.
— Mary Jo Pitzl