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Siné die: Several lawmakers say final goodbyes after contentious session

The Arizona Legislature’s push to adjourn siné die began April 26 when Republican senators rejected a bill that was a top priority for House Speaker Kirk Adams.

With Adam’s “jobs bill” dead on arrival, lawmakers figured they could finish work within a couple of days.

Final adjournment is never a small feat, but it was an easier task this year than it has been in the past.
There were really no points of contention left to grapple with. The budget was completed six weeks earlier.

The weeks leading up to final adjournment saw lawmakers debate a sweeping immigration enforcement bill — the toughest, by far, in the nation — and a measure that would have required presidential candidates to prove their citizenship before they could appear on the Arizona ballot. Immigration passed; the “birther” bill lacked support in the waning hours of the session.

Those bills thrust Arizona into the national spotlight, but the remaining work was far less controversial. There were undoubtedly important things that needed to be completed, but many of the items that had the potential to spark heated debate fell by the wayside.

But make no mistake: Bringing a legislative session to a close is not a simple matter, and this year was no different. Voting calendars appeared out of thin air, as if by magic and with little, if any, notice. Caucus meetings were called seemingly at random as bills were transferred from one chamber to the other. Floor sessions began late, recessed frequently, and delays described initially as brief stretched into interminable waits that tested the patience of all participants.

Amid the stop-and-go, hurry-up-and-wait pacing of the siné die waltz this year, the 49th Legislature completed some important tasks, perhaps none more critical to Arizona’s economy and quality of life than ensuring the state didn’t lose $7.8 billion in federal health care funding.

By approving S1043 — it passed the House 55-4 on April 28 and the Senate 18-10 the following day — lawmakers undid about $400 million in budget cuts approved in March to restore funding for a children’s health insurance program and to increase eligibility for state-run health care. The change not only prevents the state from losing federal money for health care, but also calls on the federal government to cover the expanded health care costs.

Republican leaders also settled on the ballot measures they will send to voters in November’s election. Voters will get the opportunity to decide whether the state should have a lieutenant governor, who would team up with the governor in the general election, thanks to an April 28 vote in the Senate.

Other potential ballot measures didn’t make the cut. An attempt to repeal the Clean Elections campaign finance system that was revived late in the session never came to the House floor, amid rumors that there wasn’t enough support for the measure.

A trio of options to reform constitutional provisions that protect voter-approved measures also didn’t make the cut. One of them, HCR2041, which would have required all voter-approved spending to be reauthorized every eight years, failed on April 28 after a 14-11 vote in the Senate.

Some measures that cleared the House weren’t so lucky in the Senate, as that chamber was missing three of its 18 Republican members for several hours on the final day, giving the majority party fewer members present than the minimum 16 needed for bills to be approved. That meant items with even a hint of partisan nature faced a nearly impossible task and came up just short after navigating nearly the entire legislative process.

But that problem was alleviated before one of the final important bills came to the Senate floor. Sen. Barbara Leff, a Paradise Valley Republican, had left late in the afternoon to travel to California to visit family, causing the Republicans to lose their majority.

But she returned a few hours later after her flight was delayed because of heavy winds. Upon her return, the Senate promptly voted on H2162, which contained hard-fought provisions intended to loosen some of the restrictions in the new immigration law. The bill passed 16-11, with Leff’s vote the deciding one.

The second regular session of the 49th Legislature officially adjourned at 11:07 p.m. April 29. In honor of his 36-year legislative career, Jack Brown was named temporary speaker pro tem of the House and gaveled the session to an end. The St. John’s Democrat was first elected in 1963 and served in both chambers.

Senators bid each other goodbye on the last day of session, as some won’t be returning to the Senate next year.

But they also acknowledged that they may yet see each other in a few months for possibly another special session on the budget.

They expressed gratitude to their assistants and thanked Senate President Bob Burns and other leaders from the two caucuses.

Fighting back tears, Sen. Thayer Verschoor, a Gilbert Republican who is termed out this year, said he will miss working in the Senate.

“I love each and every one of you,” he said.

But some are leaving with mixed feelings.

Sen. Ken Cheuvront, a Democrat from Phoenix, said he doesn’t know how he would look at his 16 years in the capitol.

He gave members who are coming back to the chamber this advice: Take time to know colleagues.

Don’t just look at people’s views, but also their values; and look at everybody as human, he said.

Cheuvront also reminisced fondly at the beautiful friendship he struck with former lawmaker Karen Johnson.

Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, a Democrat from Phoenix, said she would miss the “statistical analysis” of Sen. John Huppenthal, a Republican from Chandler known for his penchant for research. Huppenthal won’t be coming back to the Senate next year as he is running for the post of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Senate Minority Leader Jorge Garcia, who is also termed out, said he had lots of fun and sad memories. He left members with one piece of advice: Irrespective of ideologies, they’ll have to try and resolve the issues that confront the state.

Sen. Richard Miranda, a Democrat from Tolleson, said he loved the experience, as he had the chance to serve in the Legislature with his brother, Rep. Ben Miranda.

Senate President Burns thanked the majority staff and his assistants. He also thanked staffers from the Joint Budget Legislative Committee, the Legislature’s budget research unit.

“I’d like to certainly thank the members of this body for giving me opportunity to serve in this position,” Burns said. “It has its challenges. It has really been an honor for me to be able to serve you all.”

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