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Governor stops signing bills pending progress on Medicaid

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Just when it looked like the Legislature couldn’t get any slower, Gov. Jan Brewer told legislative leaders to stop sending her bills altogether and if they do, the implied threat is that she will veto them.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the standoff over Medicaid expansion has led Brewer to warn lawmakers not to send her anything at all until they at least make “substantial progress” on the budget and her Medicaid expansion plan.

He wouldn’t directly say that Brewer would veto any legislation that reaches her desk.  But he said Brewer wouldn’t sign any more bills until those key items are done, leaving no doubt as to what fate any new bills will meet. The Legislature passed three bills after Brewer asked legislative leadership to stop sending her bills on Tuesday.

“The governor is saying not to send up any more bills until we get the budget and Medicaid taken care of. There are a number of legislators that have other bills they’d like to get through this session and signed into law,” Benson said. “Hopefully this provides the needed impetus for focus on key issues.”

The House and Senate are likely to come to a grinding halt while lawmakers try to figure out a plan on Medicaid expansion and the budget.  So far, a deal isn’t even close, according to House Speaker Andy Tobin.

Tobin said that next week at the Capitol will be very slow, since he doesn’t want to risk a veto on any of his lawmakers’ legislation.

“The governor said no more bills. So we need to respect our relationship with the governor, and (only proceed) to the extent that I’m required by law to send the bills to her,” he said, referring to a 2009 Supreme Court decision stating that lawmakers must send legislation they have already approved to the governor within a “reasonable time.”

Tobin said he believes there may be some legal leeway in the ruling in that case, and the House may be able to approve Senate bills, and then just not transmit them to the Senate, which technically sends their own bills to the governor.

But he doesn’t want to find out if his hunch is right, and he doesn’t want to challenge Brewer.

“I don’t want to challenge any rulings next week, and I don’t want to disrespect the governor’s wishes to stop sending bills,” he said.

Benson said Brewer’s request was prompted by the lack of progress on the budget and Medicaid after 120 days of the 2013 session. Monday  will be the 120th day.

“The governor has acted on 199 bills this session. So we have taken action on a significant number of legislative proposals through the first 120 days of the session. It’s now an appropriate time for the Legislature and the governor to really put their heads together to reach an agreement on these two significant issues,” he said.

Benson also said that after 120 days lawmakers’ per diem payments go down to $10 and $20 per day, depending on whether they’re from inside or outside of Maricopa County. For the first 120 days, the per diem payments are $35 and $60. Benson said he hopes the reduction in per diem pay will further encourage the Legislature to tackle Medicaid and the budget.

Benson said the governor is open to other Medicaid plans from Tobin or others who are working on alternatives. But Brewer thus far has been unimpressed by alternatives touted by expansion opponents.

Tobin said that while he doesn’t agree with Brewer’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage to people at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level, he readily admits he doesn’t have a viable alternative plan at this point.

“The governor said ‘Alright, here’s my plan, where’s yours?’ And she has a very good point,” Tobin said.

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