The Legislature is sitting on at least a dozen measures it has already approved instead of sending them to the governor, a decision that follows Gov. Jan Brewer’s threat of a blanket veto of all bills that land on her desk before a budget is adopted.
“We are in agreement with the House to not send anything up to the governor. She doesn’t want it. We don’t want to be sticking our finger in her eye,” Senate President Steve Pierce said after his chamber passed several bills today.
But the decision to not officially transmit the bills could put them in the crosshairs of another potential showdown with the governor.
The two sides have been at loggerheads over the final shape of the state’s spending plan, and last week, Brewer said she’ll veto measures that are sent to her until a budget is completed. Budget talks between the two sides resumed late last week.
The roughly two dozen bills that are now awaiting transmittal include legislation that is important to state employees since it retroactively restores their retirement contribution rate to 50 percent. That rate was increased to 53 percent last year, a move lawmakers resorted as part of a budget-balancing scheme.
On its surface, the Legislature’s decision to sit on bills appears to ignore a Supreme Court ruling from two years ago, when Brewer sued the state for refusing to send her budget bills. The high court said lawmakers can’t hold bills beyond what is “reasonably necessary to complete any ministerial tasks.”
Since the governor made the threat, lawmakers have been cautiously advancing legislation, initially passing only measures that still needed the other chamber’s approval.
But one sentiment now is Brewer would have to resort to another extraordinary effort to force the Legislature to give up those measures.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs said the court ruling from two years ago was “wrong” to begin with.
“… To enforce that ruling, the governor would have to go into court and ask them to compel us to transmit bills, and I don’t see that happening,” Biggs said.
The Senate majority leader added that because Brewer doesn’t want to see any bills on her desk before a budget, “it would be ironic for her now, if she wanted, to go and then sue us to transmit the bills.”
In many ways, the current situation feels like déjà vu.
Just like two years ago, the current political drama is unfolding amidst an effort to negotiate a final spending plan for the state.
The question now is: What will Brewer do about it?
Gubernatorial spokesman Matthew Benson said he’s not aware of any plans to sue the Legislature to force a transmittal of those bills.
But Benson said the Legislature created the conundrum it is now in.
“The governor gave the Legislature fair warning that she didn’t want see any more bills until we had a budget deal, and the Legislature chose to go ahead and vote on final passage of some of these measures, which has created the conundrum that you described,” Benson said. “Beyond that, legislative leadership is going to have to look at that decision from the Arizona Supreme Court and determine what that decision says and decide whether they need to send those bills.”
If the governor intended to grab lawmakers’ attention and refocus them on negotiating a budget with her, her veto threat won’t mean much if the Senate and the House keep passing bills anyway—and then withholding them from her.
Prof. Paul Bender, who teaches constitutional law at ASU, said bills that have already been final-read “raise a problem.”
“It would seem to me that the Constitution requires them to send them to the governor immediately, no matter what the governor says. The governor has no right to change the Constitution,” Bender said. “And so the Constitution, I think, requires that they send those to the governor.”