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Bill aims to discourage lawmakers from skipping floor votes by docking pay

Rep. Jerry Weiers is fed up with fellow lawmakers who skip floor votes.

His solution: Dock their pay and list their names on the Web.

“Nobody can sit in your seat and vote for you,” said Weiers, a Glendale Republican. “We are paid to vote no matter how you look at it.”

For the second year in a row, Weiers is shepherding legislation that would penalize lawmakers a day’s pay – around $175 – and post their names on the Legislature’s Web site each time they miss a floor vote due to an unexcused absence.

Weiers made his case Jan. 19 to the House Government Committee, which endorsed H2019 on a 5-4 vote, sending it to the floor by way of the Rules Committee.

He said there’s no excuse for skipping floor votes, especially with taxpayers covering lawmakers’ $24,000 annual salaries and with the state facing a huge budget deficit.

“If you don’t vote, you’re not representing your district,” Weiers told the panel. “If you’re not representing your district, why are you getting paid?”

Last year, his bill made it out of committee on a close vote and failed on the floor.

Brenda Erickson, senior research analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the measure would make Arizona the only state to automatically dock lawmakers’ pay for missing votes.

A Cronkite News Service review found 21 of the 90 Arizona lawmakers missed more than 20 percent of floor votes during the prolonged 2009 session, an increase from four such members in the 2008 session. Virtually all absences among senators and most among representatives were excused.

When a lawmaker misses a floor session or a committee hearing, the panels’ leaders decide whether or not to consider the absence excused based on the lawmaker’s reason. Weiers’ bill would apply to votes on third and final readings of bills, which send legislation to the other chamber and to the governor, respectively.

Based on some committee members’ concerns about the subjectivity involved in the House speaker and Senate president ruling on absences, Weiers said he would amend the bill to more clearly address what is and isn’t a valid reason for missing a vote.

Rep. Frank Antenori, a Tucson Republican, who voted for the measure, said there were a number of important bills during the 2009 session that had to be thrown out because there weren’t enough lawmakers present to vote on them.

“Courage lacks in the political system,” Antenori said in a telephone interview.

Antenori and Weiers said it’s common for lawmakers to avoid voting on controversial legislation that could earn them negative feedback from voters and colleagues.

Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Litchfield Park Republican, who also voted in favor, called the bill creative and a good use of taxpayers’ money. Also voting in favor were Phoenix Republican Rep. Adam Driggs, Sierra Vista Republican Rep. David Gowan and Anthem Republican Rep. Sam Crump, the committee’s chairman.

Rep. Tom Chabin, a Flagstaff Democrat who voted no, called it “a lousy bill.”

“It feeds the frenzy of people who hate government and those who want to hate politicians,” he said in a telephone interview.

Chabin said members sometimes choose not to vote on certain bills in order to save working relationships with the sponsors. Sometimes saving a relationship can earn that lawmaker a vote later, he said.

Others voting against the bill were Reps. Chad Campbell, a Phoenix Democrat, Anna Tovar, a Tolleson Democrat and Warde V. Nichols, a Gilbert Republican.

Campbell said the measure would lead the Legislature “down a dangerous road” because it offers a one-size-fits-all approach to how lawmakers should represent their districts.

“We should not be telling our members how to do their job,” he said. “Where does that stop?”

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