Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists presented a list of demands they say are necessary for the safety of the state’s workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak on Monday, encouraging party leadership to mitigate the economic fallout of a virus that has already kneecapped tourism and hospitality in Arizona.
As activists gathered three to five feet apart on the House lawn to make their case, Senate President Karen Fann and a top Senate staffer passed behind them on their way to a meeting with House Speaker Rusty Bowers over how the Legislature should handle the remainder of session under new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to suspend gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
GOP leadership has yet to lay out an official path forward, but options under consideration include a temporary recess or even an early adjournment in concert with a baseline budget to provide agency funding. Lawmakers have until June 30 to pass a spending plan.
But House Democrats, including Reps. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, and Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, said the Legislature cannot adjourn or recess before passing emergency measures to help workers affected by the outbreak. And if need be, they’ll vote against motions to adjourn.
“We cannot leave this place without passing policies that will help our workers,”said Terán, D-Phoenix.
Top of their list was ensuring that all Arizonans can access free coronavirus tests. The state health lab had tested 183 people by Sunday evening, when the Department of Health Services abruptly removed information about how many people received tests from its website.
The groups also called for an immediate moratorium on evictions, utility shutoffs and health insurance terminations caused by a lack of payment. Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power have suspended disconnections.
Phoenix and Tucson halted financial evictions from city-owned public housing. New Pima County Constable Joe Ferguson called on lawmakers to immediately suspend evictions statewide. In Pima County, constables can easily perform evictions at 75 households a week, he noted.
In addition to shutting down evictions and foreclosures, the groups requested financial assistance for families, relaxed work requirements for food stamps, non-school-based meal programs for children and expanded unemployment benefits.
The legislature should prioritize these changes above the “non-essential” business that currently sits on its calendar, said. Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. She complained that House committees on Monday are considering dozens of mostly run-of-the-mill Senate bills instead of marshaling resources to address COVID-19.
“It appears to be a farce that we’re continuing to push legislation that does not address the needs that the workers are articulating,” she said.
Gov. Doug Ducey on Sunday night announced an emergency appropriation for a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club Arizona Alliance to support Arizona families while schools remain closed. Schools are expected to remain closed through March 27, but the state’s agreement with the nonprofit extends through May 1. Ducey also did not disclose the amount of the appropriation.
Other requests concerned protections for workers. The 2016 Proposition 206 already ensured up to 40 hours of paid sick leave for all Arizona workers, but the groups speaking Monday called on lawmakers to ensure that workers can take that time off without facing adverse action.
They also seek to ensure that any layoffs are based on seniority, and that reducing employees’ hours to below full-time doesn’t result in those employees losing health insurance.
Adrian Demoss, a restaurant utility worker at Sky Harbor International Airport, said he and coworkers face losing their insurance as restaurants serve fewer customers and don’t need workers to wash dishes, mop floors and keep the airport running.
“We’re gonna need help with our rent,” he said. “We’re gonna need help with transportation. I really, really want the people in the two great houses behind me to listen and help us.”