Lawmakers mull sine die delay until key senator returns from absence

Lawmakers mull sine die delay until key senator returns from absence



The Arizona House and Senate may delay adjourning the session until next week, as the Legislature waits for Republican Sen. John Kavanagh to return from a trip to Louisiana to provide a crucial vote for a pair of bills.

After approving a $9.8 billion state budget on Friday morning, legislative leaders had planned to end their annual session Monday or Tuesday, but later changed that goal to Tuesday or Wednesday.

Now, they’re saying it could be next week.


House Republican leadership is so-far unwilling to close the session without a vote on two measures: A bill to restore two-year eligibility for cash assistance for needy families and a measure to require municipal tax increase elections be held in November of even-numbered years.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said his chamber is prepared to drag the session out until next week, if that’s what it takes, in order to get two more bills out of the Senate, where the measures are short on votes as Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is out of town.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said that he’s doubtful that lawmakers will stay until next week, though, because other senators would be absent then.

Specifically, the House wants a vote on SB1152, the consolidated elections bill which was part of the deal made with conservative lawmakers to get the budget package out of the House. And they want a restoration of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, HB2372, which Mesnard said is a big priority for the governor’s office.

Mesnard said he’s not willing to give up his promise to get those bills to the governor’s office yet, though he acknowledged that extending the session into next week could create it’s own problems.

“If one senator comes back and another senator leaves, and you have this perpetual shortage of votes, we’ll be here forever,” he said.

Mesnard said he’s doing his best to ensure those bills clear the Senate, but he noted that he can’t control the upper chamber.

“I think most of this is on the Senate. That’s where (the consolidated elections bill) failed last Thursday,” he said.

But House Speaker Pro Tem T.J. Shope remained hopeful that the Senate could muster the votes for those bills this week.

“Maybe Mr. Kavanagh will fly back,” he said.

Kavanagh could not be reached for comment.

Senate GOP spokesman Mike Philipsen said Kavanagh can’t come back this week – he’s been in Louisiana since May 5 for classroom training required for teaching at Scottsdale Community College courses, and has to stay through Friday, May 12.

Lawmakers are discussing all sorts of options, including adjourning for more than three days to resume voting next week, Philipsen said.

House and Senate rules allow each chamber to adjourn unilaterally for no longer than three days. But if GOP leadership in both chambers agrees to, the Legislature can adjourn for as long as they like. That means the House and Senate could adjourn as early as today, and not have to return until next week.

However, they’re researching who might be gone next week to ensure that wouldn’t be futile, Philipsen said.

Yarbrough indicated that waiting until next week would, indeed, be futile.

The House has the same problem, Mesnard said. If the lower chamber has to wait until next week for Kavanagh to return from his trip to Louisiana,  it could start to lose lawmakers to summer vacation.

With a 17-13 split between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, there’s little room for error in the chamber, and one Republican senator’s absence means that the GOP majority must consolidate all its members remaining members to approve partisan bills.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said the TANF bill could pass 16-14 on party lines if Kavanagh was here. Democrats oppose the bill, and have criticized the governor and legislative Republicans for attaching strings that would make it easier for a family to lose eligibility for the benefits, rather than cleanly restore cash assistance lifetime limits from 12 months to 24 months.

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, said while some Republicans aren’t fond of the bill, enough lawmakers would bend to the governor’s will and support it.

Yarbrough, a Chandler Republican, said the vote count is similarly close for SB1152. If Kavanagh were at the Capitol, Yarbrough said the bill would have enough votes to pass the Senate.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Don Shooter said when it comes down to it, the House is prepared to delay sine die to ensure those two bills make it to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

“There’s two or three bills that are close enough that it matters. Those bills are important enough that we’ll be here until they’re done,” the Yuma Republican said. “Apparently we need (Kavanagh’s) vote. It could be Monday.”