UPDATED: Senate plans to end 2020 legislative session Friday, House will not

By: - May 7, 2020 10:29 am

Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Senate President Karen Fann announced Thursday morning that her chamber will end the 2020 legislative session on Friday. But the House of Representatives won’t do the same, House Speaker Rusty Bowers announced Thursday evening, after Republicans in that chamber rejected the idea.

If the Senate adjourns sine die, the legislative session will effectively be over, regardless of what the House of Representatives does.

Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, and Dajana Zlaticanin, a spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans, confirmed that the Senate will move forward with its sine die plans on Friday.

Fann, a Republican from Prescott, said her chamber will adjourn and set aside any legislative business that does not involve the health of Arizonans, the state’s economic recovery, legal liability protections for small businesses and other issues directly related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Fann said she will also create several task force committees to address issues related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision to sine die was made after conversations with members of the House and Senate, Fann said. 

“There is a strong consensus that this is the right thing to do,” Fann said.

Bowers and Fann have both said they won’t sine die without the support of the majority of Republicans in both chambers, which has made it difficult for them to follow through on plans to adjourn for the year. Democrats are widely supportive of the adjournment but Republicans have largely been opposed. Bowers and Fann had initially hoped to sine die last Friday, but aborted that plan after they were unable to get majority support in the GOP caucuses. 

GOP leaders won’t end legislative session after Republican lawmakers object

Fann told the Mirror that a majority of Senate Republicans support the move to sine die. Republicans hold 17 seats in the Senate.

That’s not the case in the House. Members of the House GOP caucus had a lengthy meeting on Zoom on Thursday afternoon. According to Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, the majority of the caucus is still opposed.

Bowers emailed House members on Thursday morning to let them know that the House would convene at 1 p.m. the following day, two hours after the Senate was scheduled to convene. But those plans had changed by Thursday night. In a press statement, Bowers said House Republicans still believe there is a lot of important work to do.

“We intend to remain in session and, together with the Senate and Governor, work in support of the safe and expeditious reopening of our society, our economy, and protection of our state’s small businesses and communities,” Bowers said.

Senate Democratic Leader David Bradley said in a written statement praising the plan to adjourn sine die that Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to call lawmakers back for a special session in the future “to address ongoing COVID-19 issues.”

“We are grateful to our Republican colleagues and Senate President Karen Fann for prioritizing public health over partisan politics,” Bradley said. “In this extraordinary time I am thankful that we were able to come together for the higher purpose of protecting all Arizonans.”

Adjournment would kill hundreds of Republican bills that were working their way through the process when the legislature went on hiatus in late March after passing an $11.8 billion baseline budget for the 2021 fiscal year. There are 544 bills that have passed at least one legislative chamber but haven’t been sent to the governor’s desk. 

Ultimately, it probably won’t matter if the House has the votes to adjourn. One legislative chamber can’t pass legislation without the other, so if the Senate follows through on its plans and adjourns sine die on Friday, the House won’t be able to conduct much business. 

Such a scenario occurred in 2015. Senate members got sick of waiting for the House to conclude its business at the end of the session and chose to sine die without consulting the other chamber. House members were still debating bills when they were informed that there was no point in continuing their work because the Senate had already called it quits.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said House Majority Whip Becky Nutt has been calling House Republicans at Bowers’s direction to find out how much support there is for ending the legislative session. Townsend is opposed to adjournment, which she said would leave a lot of important business left unfinished.

“I know that a lot of us are tired of sitting here and doing nothing while the state burns to the ground,” she said.

Fann’s announcement was denounced by Sen. David Livingston, a Peoria Republican, who has been vocal about his belief that COVID-19 is not as serious as public health experts have said and has opposed the restrictions enacted by Ducey to reduce the spread because of the economic consequences.

Townsend and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, are planning to sponsor resolutions that would rescind the emergency declaration that Gov. Doug Ducey issued in March in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Overturning that declaration would also undo a host of executive orders the governor has issued under his emergency authority, including a stay-at-home order that has riled many Republican lawmakers. It would also prevent the state from receiving billions of dollars in federal emergency aid.

Ugenti-Rita posted on Facebook that Fann won’t grant permission for her to introduce her resolution.

“I am very much opposed to sine die. Once this happens the legislature will be unable to address any of the executive orders or the emergency declaration,” she wrote, adding that doing so was “silencing the public.”

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, also said he’ll vote against adjournment, saying it will kill a lot of Republican bills and will make it impossible for the legislature to act as a check on Ducey.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said he doesn’t think a majority of his House Republican colleagues will support adjournment, though he’s open to the idea.

“Personally I would like to see us go and get some work done. But I’m not opposed to sine die if that’s what’s determined to be in the best interests of the state,” Toma said.

House Republicans planned to speak via telephone at 4 p.m. Thursday to discuss the sine die proposal.

If the legislature adjourns, lawmakers will have to return to the Capitol likely next month for a special session to address a likely budget shortfall. Legislative budget analysts project that the state will have a $1.1 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year 2021. Lawmakers can introduce legislation on any subject they want during regular sessions, but are strictly limited during special sessions to subjects dictated by the governor.

Senate Democrats threw their support behind Fann’s plan to adjourn. In a press statement, Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, praised Fann “for prioritizing public health over partisan politics” and Ducey for agreeing to call a special session at some point in the near future.

“Senate Democrats have been advocating for this decision since the legislature went on recess in March, believing it to be the best choice for Arizona,” Bradley said. “In this extraordinary time I am thankful that we were able to come together for the higher purpose of protecting all Arizonans.”

Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the influential Arizona Chamber of Commerce, expressed support on Twitter for Fann’s decision to adjourn and to put the Senate’s full attention “on issues related to Covid-19 needed to deal with the health and economic recovery efforts that have battered every state in the union.”

The Arizona chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business also backed Fann’s decision.

“While there is always more legislative work to be done, there also needs to be a safe place to conduct business and accommodate the many voices that support the Legislature’s work and deliberations. At this time, adjourning sine die is the most prudent and informed decision,” Chad Heinrich, NFIB’s Arizona state director, said in a press statement.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional information and comments.
***UPDATED AGAIN: The story was updated to reflect the House announcing it would not meet to end the session. The headline was changed to reflect that development.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”