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Making laws in Arizona differs from textbooks, and cartoon 'bills'
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Making laws in Arizona differs from textbooks, and cartoon 'bills'

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Gov. Doug Ducey signs a bill into law that would ban the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving in 2019. Three days earlier he had vetoed a bill that would have created a law against distracted driving.

PHOENIX — Think you know how a bill becomes law in Arizona?

Well, it isn’t exactly how the Schoolhouse Rock song, “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill,” says it happens.

Yes, Arizona has a House, a Senate and a governor.

And, yes, there are committees and floor debates.

But what actually happens at the state Capitol? It ain’t textbook.

Textbook: A constituent goes to a legislator and suggests a change in law to deal with a problem.

How it happens: Many more bills come from — and are actually written by — special interest groups and their lobbyists, people who may have helped elect the lawmaker who agreed to put his or her name on it.

Textbook: The Senate president or House speaker assigns the bill to an appropriate committee for a hearing.

How it happens: If the president or speaker doesn’t like the proposal, it gets assigned to a committee — or two or three — where is it likely to die. Conversely, a bill leadership wants will be put into a friendly committee, even if it belongs somewhere else.

Textbook: The committee chair schedules each bill for a hearing, then takes extensive testimony from all sides and carefully weighs the merits of each proposal.

How it happens: The committee chair can kill a measure simply by refusing to hear it. Few bills by Democrats are heard. And most measures get little more than a cursory review, with testimony often limited to a few minutes per speaker and committees approving a dozen or more bills within two hours.

Textbook: During floor debate, amendments are proposed by those seeking to improve the legislation.

How it happens: Amendments are just as often offered by foes of the original measure to undermine the bill — or even try to embarrass other legislators to have to go on record on a controversial issue with a forced roll-call vote.

Textbook: If a bill fails to get the votes, that’s the end of it for the session.

How it happens: That isn’t always the case for those sponsored by a member of the majority party. It can be resurrected by attaching the provision onto another bill that has not yet been to committee or the floor.

Textbook: When there are differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, the final version is weighed and debated by members of a conference committee.

How it happens: The fix usually is in before the conference committee even meets. That’s because the House speaker and the Senate president determine who serves on the committee and pick people who will support the version desired by leadership.

Textbook: Any measure that survives goes to the governor, who signs or vetoes it based solely on what is sound public policy.

How it happens: Or what caters to the governor’s base or contributors.

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