PHOENIX – State senators voted Friday to shut down the 2020 legislative session and go home. Sort of.
The resolution approved 24-6 instructs the clerk to inform the House that senators have completed their business and are ready to adjourn for the year. And the clerk did just that.
But House Speaker Rusty Bowers told Capitol Media Services his chamber is not ready to go home. He said lawmakers there have bills they want dealt with before shutting down. He said House members will meet early this coming week to discuss what the Senate has done and decide what to do next.
Senate President Karen Fann did provide Bowers and his GOP colleagues some wiggle room.
Technically speaking, the Senate is only in recess while awaiting a House response to the adjournment message. That gets around a state constitutional provision that bars either chamber from adjourning for more than three days without the consent of the other.
Fann said she’s willing to bring senators back if Bowers come to her with one or two — and certainly no more than three — noncontroversial measures dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout on business and the economy that could be handled quickly. And she also promised that, even if nothing more happens in the regular session, there will be at least one special legislative session to provide business owners who comply with health guidelines some protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits. The Senate president acknowledged that when lawmakers went home March 23, as the virus continued to spread, there was some thought of coming back within a few weeks. But she said it makes no sense to try to continue the session now, especially with the restrictions on the number of people who can gather at once and the inability of the public to attend committee hearings and watch floor debate.
It took more than three hours of debate to actually get to a vote to shut down the Senate amid objections from several lawmakers who chided colleagues for abandoning their duties.
The six foes, all Republicans, said that going home pretty much leaves Gov. Doug Ducey in charge, unchecked by the Legislature.
“I believe it isn’t up to just one person to run the show,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake.
But it also spilled over into a debate over the governor’s stay-at-home directive and executive orders shuttering all businesses he considers non-essential.
Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, who has railed against those orders, even suggested some parallels between the governor and England’s King George III whom the colonists rebelled against in the 18th century.
“Speaking of King George — and I’ll let you fill in the blanks — he has erected a multitude of new offices and sent swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance,” Farnsworth said, quoting repeatedly from the Declaration of Independence.
Farnsworth also compared the battle against the coronavirus to war. And he said that, in taking actions to deal with it, people should be use the same tactics as war.
“The coronavirus has cost lives,” he said. But the same is true, Farnsworth said, of veterans who went to war “and lost their lives to liberty.”
“If you believe our lives are at risk from the coronavirus, are you willing to risk your life for liberty?” he asked. “Because we are losing our liberty.”
Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, had his own take on the issue, complaining about the “heavy hand of government making people to stay home, forcing businesses to lock their doors, telling people they can’t have funerals, telling people they cannot visit their families in assisted-care facilities and nursing homes.”
“If we are restricting freedoms and liberty, the government is doing too much,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, told colleagues it’s not an either-or situation.
“One is that freedom that Constitution, that Bill of Rights, the amendments, the Arizona Constitution,” he said.
“But the other side of the coin is freedom cannot exist, it cannot exist, without mutual responsibility,” Bradley said. “That’s the only way it works.”
And Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, lashed out at some of his colleagues for saying that there is no need for executive orders and limits because people should take personal responsibility.
“The 13 members that are sitting on this floor right now without masks on, that’s the personal responsibility we are seeing right now,”’ he said. Ditto, he said, of protesters in front of the Senate.
“That’s exactly why we need a heavy hand of government because that lack of personal responsibility is impacting people like me, a person who’s a Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetic who has a compromised immune system,” Quezada said. “I’ve got to come sit in here when any one of you may have been exposed on your way over here, stopping for coffee in the morning, filling up your car with gas.”
While much of the debate Friday was about the restrictions on individuals and businesses, there actually was some discussion of the issue at hand: shutting down the session.
“I do not understand why I’m being asked to vote on a motion that will fundamentally kill all of my bills and my colleagues’ bills,” said Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita. “There is much unfinished business.”
And she said that, in shutting down, lawmakers are surrendering their power to influence policy during the pandemic, leaving only the governor in charge.
“Why would we give up our seat at the table?” she asked.
On Twitter: @azcapmedia
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