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Shooter considering banning public testimony on budget bills

Sen. Don Shooter sits though a committee hearing. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said Tuesday he is considering banning all public testimony when lawmakers take up the state budget later this year.

Sen. Don Shooter told the Arizona Capitol Times that he was weighing that decision on the same day he took criticism for not taking public testimony during presentations by two government agencies.

“I’m not saying they will or won’t (testify). That decision hasn’t been made yet,” the Yuma Republican said. “It’s possible there’s no public testimony. It’s possible there will be some limited testimony or whatever.”

His decision not to hear public testimony during budget presentations by government agencies isn’t entirely unprecedented, but banning testimony during budget-bill debates is.

If he takes the more restrictive route, it will surely invite criticisms from Democrats and groups who expect to at least be heard in committee.

Already, Senate Democrats are complaining about the Yuma Republican’s decision to disallow public testimony during today’s committee hearing.

Lawmakers typically are briefed about agencies’ spending before they budget bills are drafted and heard at the committee level. Tuesday’s meeting was one of those briefings.

“The state budget is probably the most important thing we do as state legislators, and for the people of Arizona to be denied opportunities to be able to have input on the budget, I think, is a real shame,” Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said when the Appropriations Committee was briefed about the spending by the Department of Health Services and Department of Economic Security.

Lujan said hearing from the public later, when the budget has already been negotiated, leaves advocates little chance to change legislators’ minds.

Right now, his main concern is to be efficient and the jury is still out if his current strategy is the best way to do it, he said.

Shooter told the Capitol Times he wants to avoid “14-hour” hearings.

He added it’s not the most efficient use of time and it doesn’t serve anybody well, particularly if people are making decisions in the wee hours of the morning.

He also said he’s already hearing from the public even now.

“I get so much public input every day that I can’t keep up with it,” he said.

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