House and Senate leaders are abandoning their nascent plans to adjourn the Legislature sine die on May 1 after rank-and-file Republicans revolted, according to lawmakers in both chambers.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers said in a statement that a “substantive majority” of his caucus expressed a desire to finish their legislative work rather than follow a plan he and Senate President Karen Fann hatched yesterday to reconvene and shortly thereafter adjourn without passing any legislation on May 1.
“I today conveyed this sentiment of our members to President Fann, who, in her gracious manner, said she would take that back to her members and discuss with them,” Bowers said.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, one of several senators who disagreed with the plan rank-and-file lawmakers learned about yesterday afternoon, told the Arizona Capitol Times she heard from Fann this morning that a plan for a rapid adjournment was off the table.
“It looks like we may be going into session,” the Scottsdale Republican said. “It looks like sine die-ing will be put on pause as we explore other options.”
It was a sharp about-course for Fann, who said yesterday evening that all of her senators were on board with plans to abandon the session with a quick ceremonial adjournment on May 1 and ruled out any special sessions to revive the hundreds of bills that would have been killed by adjourning.
“Our number one priority is our constituents and getting our families back on their feet again,” she said at the time.
Fann blamed the House in her own statement, writing that Bowers informed her his members did not want to sine die.
“In the Senate we are continuing discussions with our members, to determine the best way forward for the Senate and the citizens of Arizona,” she wrote. “For now, a May 1st sine die is on hold, until we have heard from all in our Senate Caucus. I want to make sure whatever decision is made is in the best interests of the State of Arizona.”
Even yesterday, there was never any such certainty in the House, where some Republican members were vocal in their opposition to the plan. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, joined Rep. Kelly Townsend of Mesa and others in insisting that the voters expect them to be conducting legislative business, not sheltering at home.
“We were elected to do a job, and we’ve done half the job,” he told the Capitol Times on Tuesday.
Lawmakers just need to go home, said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. The coronavirus crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, and passing legislation as usual isn’t the right move, she said.
Brophy McGee said she’s hopeful that Republican representatives are just going through a final stage of grief for the bills they’ve lost and will agree to adjourn sine die after giving the plan some more thought.
“Hopefully it’s kind of a death rattle,” Brophy McGee said. “When we went into this skinny budget thing and I saw all the work I had done going down the tubes, I cried out in pain and anguish. But guys, we’re done.”
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, one of the three Democrats who represents a geographically vast district containing Arizona’s portion of the Navajo Nation, said Republican leaders need to recognize how serious the pandemic is. Nearly 1,200 Diné people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and at least 44 have died.
“I’m sitting on the Navajo Nation. It is the hardest-hit area in the state right now, and I think it’s a real dangerous plan to resume the session,” Peshlakai said. “The mortuaries are running out of space. The cemeteries are running out of land here. The leadership as far as the majority needs to reflect on how dangerous this is.”
Rank-and-file Republican lawmakers, who reluctantly agreed to recess the session nearly a month ago with assurances that they would be able to resume working and revive pet legislation, first learned of the plan to adjourn sine die yesterday, Ugenti-Rita said.
House Republicans discussed the proposal during a closed caucus meeting this morning, and Fann’s confirmation that the deal was off followed.
A date to resume the session and the details of what it will look like remain fluid, Ugenti-Rita said. Both chambers changed their rules before recessing to allow lawmakers to vote remotely, and the House tested that technology as it approved a pared-down $11.8 billion budget before recessing in March.
“My desire is to go back into session and see what work we can get done,” Ugenti-Rita said. “I think the Arizona people want to begin to get back to life prior to COVID-19, and leadership’s trying to balance everybody’s interests.”
Now, lawmakers must go “back to the drawing table,” said Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman.
“No decision has been made for when the House reconvenes and what it will look like,” said Andrew Wilder, the House GOP spokesman. “The Speaker and President will have to agree to a plan.”
In a public address Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey said he’d be “open minded” if lawmakers think they need to return to the Capitol to address outstanding issues.
“I will just ask them when they come back to social distance and wash their hands and cover their mouths,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to add comments from several more lawmakers.