PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House was back in session Monday to debate an emergency budget package that is likely to include $50 million in funding passed by the state Senate to address the coronavisis crisis.
Republican Rep. T.J. Shope said the plan is to pass the Senate version that GOP House leaders balked at approving last week. Shope is a member of the House Republican majority leadership team.
The Arizona Department of Health Services said Monday morning that there are now 234 cases of coronavirus across the state.
The rare bipartisan Senate package includes money to prevent evictions and foreclosures during the crisis, provide services for the homeless, assist small businesses and pay for food bank operations. It also includes longer welfare payments and a waiver from work requirements. It adds to a basic budget package that the Legislature is rushing through to ensure government keeps running amid the virus crisis.
The state Health Services Department reported 234 cases in Arizona and there have been two deaths. Cases are expected to spike in the coming days and weeks.
Despite the decision to go ahead and pass the Senate-approved budget, minority Democrats were trying to add more items designed to help workers. That began with a proposed add-on to an emergency unemployment bill that was also passed by the Senate last week. Majority Leader Rep. Warren Peterson implored them to stop the procedural roadblocks.
“If this amendment goes on ... it will have to go back to the Senate, it's not going to sync up with the Senate and it's going to blow up the budget process,” Peterson said. “We all have a lot of great ideas, all of us, that we would like to amend onto this bill. But what this bill has is a consensus ... and this could delay the process, and Arizona needs help now.”
Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding said his members were trying to get a small business paid sick leave fund at regular rates. He also disputed Peterson's claim that any changes could delay emergency funding for days.
“If we pass an amendment today, the Senate has the ability to concur this change today,” he said. Bolding also noted the state's ultra-low unemployment benefit of $240 a week left workers hurting as emergency orders have closed restaurants, bars and movie theaters, among others businesses.
Republicans blocked the change to the agreed-upon bill and it passed on a unanimous 60-0 vote.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers accused Democrats of going back on an agreement to quickly pass the emergency Senate budget package.
"The fact of the matter is that we had an agreement," Bowers said. “I spoke with the minority leader — she said they would be glad to follow and pass out the bills that came from the Senate. I took her at her word. Maybe this is as good as that word gets — I hope not.”
Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order Friday implementing many of the provisions in the unemployment bill. The order waives requirements for a one-week waiting period before benefits kick in and allows virus-quarantined workers or those caring for ill family to get benefits. The order also waives work search rules, allows workers to get benefits if their job site temporarily closes from work and keeps employer insurance rates from rising.
Bowers had refused to consider the Senate-passed plan Thursday, but was fully on board Monday and criticized Democrats for proposing amendments.
The budget package contained almost no new spending over the current year spending plan except the $50 million in emergency cash. It spends $11.8 billion, about $500 million less than Ducey's January plan.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.