PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is rescinding some — but not all — of the executive orders he issued dealing with the pandemic.
But he’s not ready to rescind the original emergency declaration he issued 16 months ago. And that means the governor retains the power to issue new orders as he believes they become necessary.
Press aide C.J. Karamargin said his boss believes the now- or soon-to-be defunct orders are no longer necessary. He said that, in many cases, the Legislature has enacted some of the same restrictions, making Ducey’s unilateral actions no longer necessary.
For example, there are provisions in the just-approved budget package prohibiting local governments from enacting their own mask mandates. That eliminates the need for his executive order prohibiting such local action.
And another budget provision stripped universities and community colleges of their right to inquire whether students have been vaccinated, another issue on which the governor had issued his own order.
Ducey, in his own prepared statement, said the time had come to let go of some of his powers.
“Throughout the pandemic, we took action to protect Arizonans and their individual freedoms, like banning vaccine passports and protecting access to state universities,’’ he said. “Working with our Legislature, we’ve enacted these reforms into law.’’
But there’s also something else.
Ducey had agreed to surrender some of his powers in an agreement with Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa.
Both sides say that was not a tit-for-tat deal to get what was the necessary 16th vote from her for the $12.8 billion budget and a plan to cut taxes by close to $2 billion. But it did achieve the desired result.
“It was a partnership,’’ said Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff. He said she helped push through the legislative changes Ducey wanted so that the governor no longer needed executive orders to make them effective.
“It was very much working together to get where we needed to go,’’ said Townsend, who has been critical of the governor’s use of his emergency powers.
But Townsend agreed not to push Ducey to rescind the declaration of emergency, at least not yet.
One reason is that Arizona is still owed about $450 million in reimbursement from the federal government for COVID-19-related expenses already incurred by the state. And there is some question about whether the state would get that money if there is no longer a state of emergency.
The move comes as the number of new cases of the virus has hit a plateau, generally running between 300 and 500 cases per day. But deaths have dropped into the single-digit range.
Still, close to 18,000 Arizonans have died since the pandemic began.
Among the orders Ducey issued while the pandemic was raging was automatic renewal of driver’s licenses for the elderly, eliminating the need for them to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. That is now gone.
Also gone is an order that allowed restaurants, shuttered for the most part during the height of the virus, to act as grocery stores and sell some of the items they had in stock.
And pharmacists can no longer refill certain medications without a prescription, a move put in place to prevent patients from having to make a visit to the doctor.
Others orders have outlived their usefulness, like requiring schools to return to in-person learning by March 15 and postponing the expiration of certain professional licenses.
Still, the declaration of emergency remains in place. And Karamargin said he could not say when Ducey will be ready to rescind that and the powers that go with it.
“As with all of these things, we’re going to look at the situation on the ground and respond accordingly,’’ he said. “We’re going to continue to monitor this situation closely.’’
For the moment, Karamargin said, the “trend lines are headed in the right direction.’’
What has not changed, he said, is that the administration continues to urge people to get vaccinated.
“When we get reports that show that many, if not most, of the new cases are people who’ve not had the vaccine there is no better reminder that the best way to put this public health emergency behind us is to get the vaccine,’’ Karamargin said.
“The vaccine works. People should get the shot,’’ he continued. “The public health emergency will come to an end quicker if everyone rolls up their sleeve and gets a shot.’’
Still, not all of the powers that Ducey has chosen to use so far have been in that direction.
Just last month the governor used his authority under the emergency declaration to preclude state universities and community colleges from requiring that students get vaccinated to attend class.
No university actually had done that. But what they had done is said that students who cannot or will not show proof they had been inoculated would have to get tested regularly and have to wear a mask.
The executive order overruled those regulations. Karamargin defended the move.
“Given the success we’ve had so far, there’s no need for that,’’ he said.
The list of restrictions Ducey lifted also contains something that was quite an issue more than a year ago: Pharmacists will once again be able to dispense hydroxychloroquine as a possible way to prevent COVID-19.
The governor issued the ban after there were some reports that the drug, normally used to treat malaria, might block the virus. Those reports were amplified by then-President Donald Trump, who mentioned it during a White House briefing.
But that, in turn, created a spike in demand, resulting in shortages for patients who use the drugs not only for malaria but autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. So Ducey’s order — now rescinded — said hydroxychloroquine could be dispensed for COVID-19 only if a doctor wrote a prescription saying the patient actually already had the virus. And even in that case, the governor limited the prescription to no more than a 14-day supply, with no refills without a new prescription.
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