Arizona legislative leaders to decide whether to take hiatus during COVID-19 outbreak
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Arizona legislative leaders to decide whether to take hiatus during COVID-19 outbreak

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 665 cases in Arizona, COVID-19 deaths in Pima County rise to 4 series

The Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix.

PHOENIX — COVID-19 is creating fallout at the Legislature, with leaders having to figure out whether to stay in session or take a hiatus.

Senate President Karen Fann said two of her Republican colleagues do not intend to come to the Capitol while there is a risk of viral contamination.

One, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, has a new baby.

The other, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, told Fann she has a family member who is part of a vulnerable population.

Those decisions have political implications.

Republicans hold just a 17-13 edge in the Senate. It takes 16 affirmative votes for final approval of any measure.

The absences mean the only measures that could get approved are those in which Republicans can find some Democrat support.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said he’s all for passing measures that have bipartisan support. But he said it has to be more than window dressing.

“A bipartisan budget means bipartisan ‘yes’ and bipartisan ‘no,’” Bradley said.

It does not mean crafting a plan that keeps the majority Republicans happy “and then come pat us on the head and say, ‘Come along because we gave you two or three things,’” he said.

“Let’s accept that some of your folks aren’t going to like whatever we do and accept that some of our folks won’t like what we do,” Bradley said.

“But we’ve got to get to 16 (votes in the 30-member chamber) and figure out how to get there.”

Fann said she and other legislative leaders will meet Monday to decide what to do.

There is nothing in Senate rules permitting a “virtual” session or for lawmakers to vote remotely.

Legislative leaders took the first steps last week to try to minimize exposure, from closing the House and Senate galleries, where the public can view floor action, to telling those who chair committees to find ways to limit in-person testimony.

There is no legal requirement for legislative committees to even take public testimony. And the requirement for the public to be able to view committee action could be met through the closed-circuit TV system operated by the Legislature as well as simulcasting meetings on the web.

That still leaves the question of the path forward — with or without Carter and Boyer.

The only thing the Arizona Constitution actually requires lawmakers to do is adopt a budget. That is not negotiable.

But that task has now been complicated by the virus, specifically its effect on the economy.

Travel and tourism are taking a hit. Spring training has been canceled. Conferences have been postponed.

And on a longer horizon, what’s happening in the stock market — and the possibility of a recession — affects tax collections.

Fann, a Prescott Republican, said legislative staffers already are looking at revised revenue projections that will be reviewed on Monday.

“We’re going to talk about those scenarios and ... what is our next step,” she said.

One option, Fann said, could be to adopt a placeholder budget that would ensure the basic operation of state government for the coming fiscal year. That could be reviewed later when legislators have a better handle on the economy and tax collections.

New revenue projections could change the list of funding priorities that Republican lawmakers — and separately Gov. Doug Ducey — started the session with in January.

“Some of the things we may have had with the original budget we might say, ‘Let’s hold off on those until we see where the real numbers are going to be,’” Fann said.

Bradley said any bid for bipartisan cooperation will mean Republicans have to give up on most proposals for sharp tax cuts, especially with the uncertain long-term effects of the virus on the economy.

Another option would be to simply shutter the session for a couple of weeks. That could give COVID-19 a chance to run its course — assuming it behaves like other viruses — as well as provide a more certain revenue picture.

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