GLENDALE, Ariz (AP) — The Arizona Senate plans to return to session on Friday to formally adjourn for the year. But it won't happen without a fight because the House said it will remain in session.
Republican Senate President Karen Fann announced the decision to adjourn Thursday. That would effectively kill legislation that had not been passed when lawmakers recessed because of the coronavirus on March 23 after enacting a bare-bones budget for the coming fiscal year.
GOP House Speaker Rusty Bowers initially told members they would come back into session at 1 p.m. Friday. Pushback from some Republican lawmakers who want to reconvene and continue work appeared almost immediately. Then, late Thursday night Bowers announced that House members will not reconvene Friday after all.
“Members of the House Republican Caucus believe that there is important work for us to do on behalf of the people of Arizona," Bowers said. "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."
GOP Rep. Kelly Townsend, who has been pushing hard for lawmakers to continue the session as normal, tweeted the dictionary definition of "nonfeasance,” or failure to act. Sen. David Livingston told The Associated Press that he will push to keep the session going, although he doubts he has enough Senate votes.
“There’s a fight going on between the House and the Senate on what bills to do or not to do,” Livingston said. “And since there’s not an agreement, it appears to me that leadership is just throwing their hands up and (adjourning). So I’m frustrated –- there’s a whole bunch of us that are frustrated. But not enough to prevent it.”
Fann said there is plenty of work still to be done to address the effects of the coronavirus on the state. But those issues could be addressed in a special session and could include bills targeting economic recovery, healthcare issues and the business community’s liability concerns.
Livingston and other lawmakers voiced concerns that adjourning would cede power to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who would then control what lawmakers could consider if he called them back for a special session.
“I love this governor, but he’s wrong on this. I love President Fann, but she’s wrong on this,” he said. “There’s no reason we should give that power to the governor.”
The Legislature could call itself back into session and act on whatever they want. But that move requires a two-thirds vote that is unlikely without Democratic backing.
The initial announcement apparently took Republican House leaders by surprise. House GOP spokesman Andrew Wilder said House leaders were considering how to react, then later sent Bowers' call to members to return.
If the Senate adjourns and the House refuses to do so, it could touch off a court battle, or just a prolonged stalemate.
Fann said there is a strong consensus among Senate members that setting aside legislative business that doesn't directly affect the virus is the right thing to do. She said the Senate will create committees to address issues related to the pandemic.
“Arizona’s lawmakers will identify the solutions necessary to accelerate our economic recovery while working to ensure that the constitutional liberties of all of Arizona’s citizens are preserved,” she said in a statement.
Livingston said he agrees that there is much work to do — especially on a proposal from fellow Republican Sen. Eddie Farnsworth to extend liability protections to businesses that reopen and to negate the criminal penalties in Ducey's business closure orders.
Those orders are being eased, with many retail shops being allowed to open this week, hair salons and barbers on Friday and restaurants next Monday, with appropriate precautions.
Farnsworth’s proposal won’t get a chance to be introduced if the Senate adjourns.
“Tomorrow we can get haircuts. Monday we can go to restaurants,” Livingston said. “And what are we doing at the Legislature? We’re closing up."
"We’re doing the opposite of what we’ve been encouraging the state to do. We need to lead by example and be down there working if we expect Arizona to go back to work,” he said.
The House and Senate had announced on April 21 that they were planned to return May 1 to adjourn the session. That announcement surprised some Republican lawmakers who wanted the regular session to resume. The following day, that plan was put on hold.