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Arizona Legislature closes door on divisive session

June 14, 2013
http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/20130613arizona-legislature-sine-die.html
Alia Bead Rau

The 2013 Arizona Legislature finally wrapped up its work shortly before 1 a.m. today, ending the most divisive session in recent memory on a congenial note.


With the final approval of the 2014 budget and Medicaid expansion finished by early Thursday afternoon, lawmakers worked into the night on lingering legislation to change election law and streamline state sales-tax collections. They also pushed a host of pet issues.


Whether it was exhaustion, resignation or a decision to save the fight for another day, the bitter tirades that dominated the budget and Medicaid fight on Wednesday and into Thursday morning were replaced by hugs and handshakes. The unwavering bipartisan bloc of votes that supported those issues during the special session also dissolved as lawmakers voted on the last slew of bills.


The most contentious bill of the night was a Senate vote over a package of election changes that had been fought over throughout the Session.


The Senate first killed the bill, with Democrats and Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, voting against it. Later in the night, bill supporters called for a re-vote. Pierce changed his vote to support the measure, and the bill passed. It also passed the House.


Supporters argued that House Bill 2305 was sponsored by all county recorders in the state and would have fixed some of the problems that bedeviled the 2012 election, including delays in issuing results due to late-arriving ballots.


Opponents argued that it would limit individuals’ ability to vote and would deter minority voters to the benefit of the Republican party.


Pierce admitted he had been heavily lobbied by Republicans to change his vote. But he also said he supported the bill.


“I liked the bill in the first place,” he said, adding that he had initially made a promise to vote no but when the bill failed he spoke to that individual and changed his vote.


The bill would remove voters from the permanent early-voting list if they failed to use their mail-in ballots.


“I think it makes the system more fair,” said Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who worked on the legislation.


Democrats disagreed.


“This debate has gotten so ugly that people have dug their heels in the ground. These votes are more partisan than anything,” Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said of the bill’s ultimate passage. “This is not about what’s in the best interest of Arizona and how we fix our election laws.”


Gallardo said the bill, if Gov. Jan Brewer signs it into law, will likely face legal challenges.


The House and Senate also approved a plan to streamline the state sales-tax collection process for businesses.


Brewer had pushed the proposal, but cities fought it for much of the session.


After some last-minute changes on Thursday, cities backed the plan.


“At this point, I feel like it’s a win-win. It will put Arizona in a business-friendlier category,” Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said. “And when business is helped, of course cities and towns and the state thrive.”


The 2013 Arizona Legislature drew to a close Thursday night, ending the most divisive session in recent memory on a congenial note.


With the final approval of the 2014 budget and Medicaid expansion wrapped up by early afternoon, lawmakers worked into the night on lingering legislation to change election law and streamline state sales-tax collections. They also pushed a host of pet issues.


Whether it was exhaustion, resignation or a decision to save the fight for another day, the bitter tirades that dominated the budget and Medicaid fight on Wednesday and into Thursday morning were replaced by hugs and handshakes. The unwavering bipartisan bloc of votes that supported those issues during the special session also dissolved as lawmakers voted on the last slew of bills.


Thursday’s more civilized Legislature was a contrast to the group that battled over the budget and Medicaid on Wednesday and into Thursday morning. The House finished its work on the contentious issues at about 3:40 a.m.


Conservative GOP members, stripped of control, offered hours of blistering floor speeches.


“I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria. “And I feel like I’ve been betrayed.”


“This governor who became famous for wagging her finger in the face of the president is now wagging her finger in the face of this state,” said Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.

 

“It is unconscionable. It is a blow to this great institution.”
 

But stoic coalition members stuck together, rarely responding to Republicans’ demands for answers about the budget.


Shortly before 2 a.m., Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, offered a full-throated defense of the Medicaid-expansion proposal. She dedicated her vote to the late Monsignor Edward Ryle, a lobbyist for the Catholic Diocese who worked to establish the state’s Medicaid program.


“We have proven over the last 20 years that the system works,” McCune Davis said. “There are incentives to reduce costs and to keep people healthy. The experience has been good for providers and patients, and that’s well-documented. ... I wonder if people really understand the system that we have in place in Arizona.”


Medicaid amendments intended to defeat or change the legislation — all beaten back by the bipartisan coalition — included a repeal of the hospital assessment that helps fund the expansion, an anti-abortion provision, a requirement for a two-thirds majority approval and proposals that would roll back expansion if federal funding fell short of what’s promised.


Conservatives, some calling themselves the “minority party” though they outnumber Democrats, complained that the process shut out the public and most members of the GOP, which hold majorities in both chambers.


They said that the bills were not fully vetted in committees and caucuses and that they were forced to make important policy decisions on more than 600 pages of amendments in a matter of hours.


The Senate gave its final approval to the budget and Medicaid at about 2 p.m Thursday, spurring more speeches from supporters and opponents.


Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, warned of dire consequences from Medicaid expansion.


“This is the biggest mistake we’ve made in the Arizona Legislature this year and maybe ever,” Ward said. “It’s going to decrease the quality of care in Arizona. It’s going to decrease access to care in Arizona. And it’s going to increase costs to all of us.”


Gov. Jan Brewer has 10 days to sign bills, veto them or do nothing and allow them to become law without her signature.


After the Medicaid and budget battles, the Legislature turned its attention to several lingering issues.


The House passed, but then Senate Democrats and a few Republicans voted down, a package of election changes that had been fought over throughout the session.


Supporters argued that House Bill 2305 was sponsored by all county recorders in the state and would have fixed some of the problems that bedeviled the 2012 election, including delays in issuing results due to late-arriving ballots.


Opponents argued that it would limit individuals’ ability to vote.


The bill would have removed voters from the permanent early voting list if they failed to use their mail-in ballots.


“I think it makes the system more fair, and I hate the fact that this has turned into a partisan issue,” said Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who worked on the legislation. “We’ll be back again next year.”


The House and Senate approved a plan to streamline the state sales-tax collection process for businesses.


Brewer had pushed the proposal, but cities fought it for much of the session. After some last-minute changes on Thursday, cities backed the proposal.


“At this point, I feel like it’s a win-win. It will put Arizona in a business-friendlier category,” Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said. “And when business is helped, of course cities and towns and the state thrive.”


Among the other bills lawmakers passed in the session’s waning hours were:


--House Bill 2173, which makes changes to unemployment-insurance regulations, including increasing penalties against individuals who fraudulently receive benefits.


--House Bill 2617, which allows limited-liability companies to get tax credits for donations to school tax organizations.


--House Bill 2389, which makes changes to state statute related to police and firefighters, including making it easier for spouses and children of a deceased officer to keep their phone number and address out of public records.


--Senate Bill 1312, which makes it illegal to have tobacco-rolling vending machines for commercial use.


Lawmakers ended the session with fewer speeches than normal. But there were still a couple who looked back on their accomplishments and offered well-wishes to their co-workers.


"We have done a lot of good work on this floor this session,” said Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman. “We’ve worked very hard.”


Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, who was among the coalition to support the budget and Medicaid expansion, thanked House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, for his leadership.


“While we may not agree on every issue, we have maintained a friendship for many years,” he said. “You are the right person to be there at the right time in the history of the state.”

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