PHOENIX — Republican senators voted Wednesday to curb the emergency powers of the governor, but do it in a way he can’t veto.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1003, approved on a party-line 16-14 vote, would terminate any emergency declared by the governor in 30 days unless both the House and Senate agreed to an extension. And any extension could be for no more than 30 days, though there could be continued reauthorization.
The proposal now goes to the House.
Nothing in the measure would affect the current emergency that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey declared in March for the pandemic.
That’s because the legislation requires voter approval. Sending it to the ballot skirts the normal requirement for gubernatorial approval.
But lawmakers may yet get a chance to pull the plug on the current emergency. SCR 1001, which would do just that, already cleared two Senate committees and awaits floor debate.
Wednesday’s vote comes after months of complaints by many GOP lawmakers that the governor has used his emergency powers to infringe on individual rights. They cite the closure of businesses he declared to be “nonessential,” a moratorium on evictions, and what amounted to a stay-at-home order for people who do not need to be out.
Most of those restrictions are gone. But Ducey’s orders still keep bars closed unless they operate like restaurants, with sit-down food service and no dancing. And restaurants can operate with only limited seating capacity.
“My constituents were banging down my door wanting me to do something and take action,” said Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who crafted the plan.
Existing law does allow the Legislature to terminate an emergency order with a simple majority vote.
Only thing is, with the Legislature not in session, there was no way for lawmakers to do that. And with Ducey unwilling to call them into a special session to override his order, that left only the option for lawmakers to call themselves in. That, however, takes a two-thirds vote, which the Republicans did not have.
Petersen said this measure, if approved by voters, would ensure that the governor has to work with lawmakers if he wants his emergency powers extended.
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said there needs to be legislative oversight and input, even in the case of a deadly disease.
“I hope we never again see something so fearsome that we give all power and control to one person and his bureaucrats who cannot be held accountable by the public,” she said. “There are severe consequences when we place that much power in the hands of one person indefinitely.”
Senate Democrats generally say Ducey has done too little with his emergency powers to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its effects. They found themselves in the politically curious position of defending the current law and speaking against efforts to curb the GOP governor’s powers.
“The whole purpose is an attempt to remove politics from action during an emergency so that we can act swiftly to save lives,” said Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe. And he suggested Republicans were making far too much out of the gubernatorial powers.
“This isn’t ‘Star Wars,’” he said. “The Senate didn’t turn Ducey into an emperor.”
Mendez said now that legislators are back in session, there are things they should be doing, like dealing with housing and child care issues of those who have been affected, whether physically or financially, by the virus, “instead of taking advantage of lathered-up constituents and their fears.”
If approved by the House, the measure will be on the 2022 general election ballot.