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Governor not looking for ‘Brewer v. Burns’ repeat

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

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

What a difference four years makes.

In 2009, Gov. Jan Brewer sued the Legislature over its refusal to send her a package of budget bills that she was certain to veto, leading the Arizona Supreme Court to rule that lawmakers couldn’t hold back measures that were ready for the governor.

Today, with Brewer locked in a similar battle with her party, this time over Medicaid expansion, the Legislature is once again refusing to send her bills that she has threatened to veto due to her self-imposed moratorium on new legislation.

But even though the Legislature is sitting on 20 bills in violation of the court’s ruling in Brewer v. Burns, no one is complaining. Brewer isn’t suing or demanding the bills be sent to her desk, and Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin are paying more heed to the governor’s moratorium than to the Supreme Court ruling.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor has no problem with the Legislature withholding bills, and is simply providing some incentive for lawmakers to pass a budget and her Medicaid plan.

“There are certainly a lot more than 17 bills that the Legislature would like to see signed into law before this session is concluded. It’s just a matter of focusing the attention on the issues at hand,” Benson said.

Most of the legislation is in the House, which has 17 bills ready for Brewer. Tobin, R-Paulden, acknowledged that he’s violating the Supreme Court’s ruling, but said he’s trying to respect the governor’s wishes.

“That might be true … but I don’t see anyone suing me over it,” Tobin said.

Meanwhile, the Senate is holding onto three bills that were passed in early May. While the Senate has continued passing House bills and sending them back to their chamber of origin, the House hasn’t given final approval to any Senate bills since shortly after Brewer told lawmakers not to send her any new legislation until they dealt with the budget and her Medicaid expansion plan.

Biggs, R-Gilbert, learned the hard way to take Brewer’s moratorium seriously. On May 23, he sent five bills to the Ninth Floor, which Brewer promptly vetoed.

A spokesman for Biggs did not return a message from the Arizona Capitol Times.

Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender, an expert on the Arizona Constitution, said there’s no question the Legislature is violating the Brewer v. Burns ruling. But Bender said there is probably no way to force the Legislature to transmit them, unless the governor herself sues. He was unsure whether anyone else, such as an Arizona resident with a stake in a particular bill, would have standing to sue.

“Nobody knows the answer to those questions. Standing doctrine is not clear,” Bender said. “Outside of the governor, you cannot tell.”

Bender said the current situation demonstrates why he believes Brewer v. Burns was such a peculiar ruling in the first place.

“That Supreme Court decision in Burns was very mysterious to me,” he said. “They must have known, if they thought about it, that they are then inviting exactly this problem. It’s a rule that is almost impossible to enforce.”

If Brewer doesn’t complain, Bender said, then that’s likely the end of the issue. And Brewer has no plans to sue or to press the issue, Benson said.

“For now, the governor is content to see the Legislature focus its attention on the two biggest issues at hand, and those are Medicaid and the budget. These other legislative measures can wait for the time being,” Benson said.

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