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Senate announces new committee assignments

Andy Biggs wins bid for Arizona Senate President

Andy Biggs (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Incoming Republican leaders have completed the reorganization of Senate committees following last week’s elections.

As expected, the Senate will have fewer committees, but the core panels that serve as gatekeepers of the thousands of ideas lawmakers grapple with each year have been retained.

The reorganization yielded little surprise.

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, kept his position as Senate Appropriations Committee chairman.

Many veterans—not all—held on to their positions.

*Senator-elect Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, will chair the education committee.

*Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, will keep her position as chairwoman of the newly-named Health and Human Services Committee.

*Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrook, will chair the new Committee on Commerce, Energy & Military.

Following his impending exit from leadership, current Senate President Steve Pierce will chair the Natural Resources committee.

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, is appointed as the new Senate President pro-tempore, which used to be a largely ceremonial position but has gained more prominence and importance in the last few years.

Here is the full list:

Appropriations–Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma

Finance–Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler

Judiciary–Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria

Public Safety–Senator-elect Chester Crandell, R-Heber

Education–Senator-elect Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix

Health & Human Services–Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix

Commerce, Energy & Military—Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrook

Natural Resources–Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott

Elections–Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale

Transportation–Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa

Government and Environment—Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford

Some, including incoming senators Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City and Bob Worsley of Mesa, won’t be chairing a panel.

This isn’t surprising, since both are new to the Legislature.

The Senate announced the reorganization shortly after the House did the same.

The committees reflect the new political realities at the Capitol: They will shrink in number because there are fewer Republican senators to chair them.

The G.O.P. retained the majority but lost four seats in the Senate after the elections.

Lawmakers face big decisions next year, when some of the state’s problems are expected to be magnified.

Yee, for one, will have her hands full in the upcoming session, given the challenges in the education community.

Chief of those challenges will be how to keep the education budget whole after voters rejected Proposition 204, which would have earmarked about $800 million a year mostly for K-12 but also for higher education.

Supporters pushed for the 1-cent tax in anticipation of the expiration of a current temporary one-cent sales tax increase, which allowed Arizona to limp through during the worst of the crisis.

The loss of revenues from the current 1-cent tax increase will leave budget hold at a time when Arizona also needs to decide whether to expand its Medicaid population.

Yee is likely to face tremendous pressure from all sides to lobby hard for education funding.

As expected, two new senators were appointed as committee vice chairpersons.

Given the focus on Medicaid and the federal health care overhaul, the Senate’s health committee will play a more prominent role next year.

Notably absent from the list of committees is the Senate Border Security, Federalism and States’ Sovereignty Committee, which former Senate President Russell Pearce had created.

The committee’s purpose was unmistakable — to provide an avenue to discuss the country’s immigration problems, violence on the U.S.-Mexico border and states’ rights.

But it also quickly earned a reputation for drawing controversy.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, the committee’s chairwoman, once invited American Border Patrol leader Glenn Spencer to speak, prompting a walk-out by two Democrats who serve on the panel.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based civil rights organization that tracks hate groups, describes Spencer as a “vitriolic Mexican-basher.”

The committee also became the channel for hot-button measures such as Allen’s proposal to create an armed state militia that could be deployed to the border.

Some Republicans wanted to keep the committee.

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, who stormed out of a committee hearing to protest the invitation to Spencer, told the Arizona Capitol Times it was best for Biggs to let the committee go.

“It was ultimately the three-ringed circus of the Legislature,” he said.

 

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