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House panel approves measure to fill legislative vacancies promptly

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After Arizona Senate Democrats were left short-handed during a special session on education funding last October, lawmakers are pushing for a change that would require legislative vacancies be filled promptly.

Members of the House Local and International Affairs Committee on Wednesday gave unanimous approval to a bill that would force the county boards of supervisors to fill a vacant legislative seat within five days of receiving a list of nominees from the district party.

As it stands now, county supervisors are required to fill vacancies within 5 days of nominations for districts with less than 30 precinct committeemen. But for larger, more politically active districts with 30 or more precinct committeemen, there are no time constraints on the vacancy filling process.

Democratic former Sen. Ed Ableser of Tempe resigned his post in the Senate in late September 2015, leaving a vacancy in his seat.Because the Legislature was not in session at the time, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors held off on filling his seat.

But in October that year, Gov. Doug Ducey called lawmakers into a special session to approve what would become Proposition 123. Democrats complained that they were at a disadvantage during the special session without Ableser.

Democratic Representative Randy Friese’s bill, HB2048, would insure that something like that would not happen again.

Friese said he first became aware of the disparity in 2016, when his seatmate in the House resigned.

“My seatmate Victoria Steele resigned, and it made me look into the statutes on appointment process,” Friese said. “It could be that there’s a vacancy that is not filled for quite a long amount of time.”

But Republican Rep. Drew John questioned the cost of the five-day requirement if it fell on a day when the board of supervisors had no meeting scheduled.

“There’s dollars involved with calling a special meeting,” John said. “I like what you’re trying to do but I would put an exact date on it.”

Friese responded by clarifying that the law already states the requirement of five days in its wording and that he was just trying to clarify the disparity between districts with more or fewer precinct committeemen.

“If we are asking them to call a special meeting because they need to, we should be holding the larger districts to the same standard,” Friese said.

Republican Rep. Becky Nutt of Clifton supported the bill, and pointed out the importance of filling a seat if the Legislature is in session.

“This is a vacancy during session, so we would want somebody to get in there as soon as possible,” Nutt said.

Friese noted that he ran the same legislation last year, and it passed through the House unanimously and earned the support of the Secretary of State’s Office. But that bill died after never receiving a vote from the full Senate.

The bill must still clear the House Rules Committee before receiving a vote from the whole House.

Friese said voters deserve proper legislative representation.

“If there’s a vacancy, the residents of that district should have representation, and it should be corrected in a reasonable period of time,” Friese said.

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