Arizona lawmakers ending session with flurry of key issuesPosted: Updated:
The Arizona Legislature was working Thursday evening toward the earliest adjournment in nearly 50 years, tackling a series of bills in the Senate and House that should clear lawmakers' desks for the year.
Top-tier items still to be decided include Gov. Doug Ducey's plan to create an independent inspector general who reports directly to him. That plan has been stuck for several weeks, but amendments were being crafted Thursday morning. Whether the inspector general bill moves or Ducey is left to return to the issue next year remains unclear.
Other top items include Ducey's proposal to eliminate the Weights and Measures Department, which had stalled but started moving Thursday after a major overhaul.
Democrats have objected to the wholesale revisions in a last-minute amendment. The proposal originally split the department's functions between at least four state departments, and now all but taxicab regulation goes to the agriculture department.
Majority Republicans pushed the bill through debate despite the late changes. It awaits a formal vote and then must be passed by the House.
The Legislature acted on another of Ducey's priorities, passing a bill allowing the state to issue driver's licenses that meet federal REAL ID requirements. Sen. Bob Worsley's efforts had stalled in the House. But with a looming federal deadline, he tacked it onto another bill in the Senate on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Senate passed House Bill 2609 on a 30-0 vote and the House on a 47-12 vote.
House Speaker David Gowan had been delaying action on a large transportation bill that had the REAL ID provision in it. But Senate Bill 1274 contained a revision of the state's speeding laws added in the House that the Senate did not support, so HB2609 was taken up instead.
Federal facilities have begun implementing rules for more secure identification documents required under the 2005 REAL ID Act. Airports could begin requiring the documents as early as next year.
The Senate and House also passed a bill that creates new rules for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft and sent it to Ducey for action. House Bill 2135 lays out a new regulatory scheme for ride-hailing firms and traditional taxi companies and sets minimum insurance rules. It also requires vehicle inspections, driver background checks, and sets a zero-tolerance policy for drug and alcohol use by drivers.
Senate President Andy Biggs said he's aiming to end the 2015 legislative session by Thursday evening.
If that happens, the resulting 81-day session would be the quickest since the 1968 Legislature adjourned in just 74 days, according to records compiled by the Arizona Capitol Times.
Biggs said he's most proud that the $9.1 billion state budget passed last month closed a budget shortfall for the current and upcoming budget year that exceeded $1 billion.
"We protected K-12 education, we protected those that needed to be protected," Biggs said. "It's a budget that I think is real solid and builds a solid foundation to be bigger and better things next year."
Left hanging is a school-funding lawsuit where a court has ordered the state to pay $331 million this budget year and more next budget year to make up for missed inflations payments. Settlement discussions in that case between K-12 schools and the Legislature have been underway since January.
Democrats have criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature and the governor for enacting a budget that cuts nearly $100 million from universities, leaves K-12 funding essentially flat and cuts from Medicaid and other social programs.
But Biggs said the cuts are not as bad as critics say.
"I think when people quit passing around misinformation, you're going to find a lot of satisfied customers," he said.