Senate abruptly adjourns, House bills go down without vote

Julia Shumway//May 26, 2020

Senate abruptly adjourns, House bills go down without vote

Julia Shumway//May 26, 2020

From left, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, speaks with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, in the Arizona Senate on May 26. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Arizona Capitol Times)
From left, Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, speaks with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, in the Arizona Senate on May 26. (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)


The Arizona Senate abruptly ended the 2020 legislative session today, catapulting leaders into planning for a special session an hour or so earlier than they expected.

Senators, who already voted to end the session once this month, planned to return to the Capitol Tuesday morning to pass a final list of “non-controversial” House bills and ceremonially end the session. Instead, seconds after Senate President Karen Fann banged her gavel to call the Senate back from its May 8 recess, Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, rose to call for an immediate adjournment.

Avondale Democrat Lupe Contreras, back at the Capitol for the first time since he tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-April, quickly seconded. And three moderate Republicans who have long pushed for adjourning sine die joined the 13 Democratic caucus members in voting for the motion.

Within three minutes, the 2020 legislative session was over.

“I heard that there was going to be that motion made,” Fann said. “I just thought it would take another five minutes, at least.”

Karen Fann
Karen Fann

But while the regular legislative session may have ended, Fann said lawmakers’ work is just beginning. She plans to immediately get back to planning for the two special sessions Gov. Doug Ducey has assured her he will call to deal with economic and budgetary fallout of the ongoing pandemic.

And while she said she wouldn’t presume to tell the governor what to do, she wants to see the special session on economic development happen within 30 days.

By mid-June, lawmakers also will have a more clear picture of the state’s finances, after analysts have had a week or two to parse April sales tax figures and determine just how badly the shutdown hit retail and restaurants. At that point, they could return to make budget cuts, raid funds or change policy to address the early stages of an expected $1.1 billion shortfall.

Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer

Some of the 28 House bills Fann hoped to vote on today could resurface during a special session, she said. While lawmakers may be hard-pressed to make the case that measures on Holocaust education and setting aside traffic violation convictions, both of which were on today’s calendar, are related to the coronavirus, others might find a way to live this year.

“We have some really good economic development (bills) which can be COVID-related bills, so yes, and hopefully we get as many as possible,” she said.

A special session is the right time to deal with two outstanding COVID-19-related House bills that didn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate, said Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix. Brophy McGee and Republican Sens. Heather Carter of Cave Creek and Paul Boyer of Glendale voted with Democrats to adjourn the session.

Today’s vote was consistent with the mantra Brophy McGee has repeated since April: it’s time to go home. She said the quick move to adjourn staved off expected moves from sine die opponents to push for action on other bills.

Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)
Sen. David Farnsworth (R-Mesa)

“I guess there’s some things that are problematic procedurally if you don’t go immediately to that vote,” Brophy McGee said. “We just needed to get that done, so we did. I thought I was being very consistent with my vote two weeks ago.”

The end of session means lawmakers can focus entirely on responding to the coronavirus, Brophy McGee said, and it gives a chance to fix two hastily-thrown-together measures dealing with childcare funding and liability for businesses from the House. Neither measure had the 16 votes it needed in the Senater.

Boyer, likewise, said he wanted to see focus shift to business that needs to get done during a special session. All legislation in a special session called by the governor must relate directly to the topic on which he called it, meaning lawmakers are limited in what they can introduce.

“We’re not picking winners and losers on who gets their bills on the board and who doesn’t,” Boyer said. “And we will be solely focused on whatever their respective issue is.”

He said he’s particularly interested in seeing what the governor’s office or Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, produce in terms of a business liability bill after working with businesses. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, have crafted to exempt businesses from civil lawsuits if an employee or customer contracts COVID-19 and to protect anyone who disobeyed Ducey’s stay-at-home order from legal consequences including fines, jail time and the revocation of business licenses.

“The real important thing is the liability bill, but not the Eddie Farnsworth version,” Boyer said.

Fann said a liability measure should be retroactive and pass with an emergency clause, necessitating Democratic votes. To get those, Contreras said, Republicans need to welcome Democrats to the negotiating table and listen to their ideas.

For his vote, he said, a business liability measure would have to include requirements that businesses take actions to protect public safety.

“I don’t want to just open the floodgates of letting them do whatever they want, and not making them liable for their negligence,” he said. “Some people out there, they just want money. They care about making money, they don’t care about public safety, and I think we need to put public safety ahead of that.”

Most lawmakers left the Senate soon after the motion to adjourn. Sen. Dave Farnsworth, perhaps the Senate’s fiercest advocate for resuming business as usual, stayed to film a Facebook live video updating his followers on the sudden end.

The Mesa Republican told the Arizona Capitol Times he hoped his peers would show “courage and common sense” and continue their work, at least passing the House’s liability measure.

“We have thrown away all the efforts of the Arizona House, and we have not supported small businesses,” Farnsworth said. “I have been in a room full of politicians rather than a room full of statesmen.”

In a short statement, Ducey thanked the Legislature for working in a bipartisan fashion on COVID-19 response.

“I look forward to continuing to work together in this spirit to address Arizona’s economic and budgetary needs, while protecting public health and all of our state’s citizens,” he said.