The House on March 23 gave preliminary approval to a trio of measures that would ask voters to lengthen legislative terms, temporarily suspend protections of some spending and give lawmakers control of billions of dollars of federal money.
The push for longer legislative terms would make for more effective legislators, said Rep. Andy Tobin, a Republican from Paulden and the sponsor of HCR2017.
The measure would change legislative terms from two years to four years, beginning with those lawmakers taking the oath of office in January 2011.
The constitutional change, which requires voter approval, would affect all House members beginning next year. The Senate, meanwhile, would be on staggered four-year terms, with only 15 randomly selected senators affected in 2011. The rest would begin the longer terms in 2013.
One supporter said that giving legislators more time in office before facing an election allows them to better learn the issues and the process.
“This will help (us) to craft better legislation in the state of Arizona,” said Tucson Republican Vic Williams.
But that set up would make the Legislature more distant from voters, said Democrat Chad Campbell. He said it would make more sense to give longer terms to senators, while keeping the House of Representatives with two-year terms.
“I think you need a body that is more responsive to the voters’ mindset,” he said.
The change would still retain legislative term limits, something Tobin said was by design.
“I believe the voters have been very clear. They do want term limits. The question is, what are those term limits going to look like?” he said.
The House of Representatives also approved on a voice vote a ballot measure that would ask voters to temporarily suspend a constitutional provision that prevents lawmakers from changing voter-approved measures or their funding.
If voters give their approval, HCR2039 would let legislators take up to half of a voter-approved special fund’s balance each year through 2014. It would also let them divert up to half of any revenue stream approved by voters, such as sales taxes or taxes on tobacco products approved in the last decade to fund a variety of programs.
The final ballot measure that cleared the first hurdle on the House floor would give lawmakers control of all discretionary federal monies sent to Arizona.
Currently, the Legislature only appropriates a portion of the federal funds given to the Department of Economic Security for some welfare programs. The governor’s office controls the rest of the money.
The legislation, HCR2057, would amend the state constitution to give lawmakers the ability to appropriate – or choose not to appropriate – all “non-custodial” federal funds given to Arizona.
Those funds are typically block grants and other federal monies that provide the state with discretion regarding the development, implementation or operation of a program or service.
Previous efforts to seize control of the federal money have failed, several times after being vetoed by governors who did not want to lose control of the money. But this year’s effort would ask voters to make the decision by placing it in the constitution.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arizona is one of only five states where lawmakers lack the ability to appropriate federal funds.