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Lawmakers move to limit emergency powers of governor

Gov. Doug Ducey explains Thursday how any decision he makes on signing bills to impose new voting restrictions will be based on what he considers "good policy" and not based on opposition from the business leaders -- or the sports community. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

With some verbal slaps at how Doug Ducey has handled the current emergency, Republican lawmakers voted Friday to ask Arizona voters to give them the right to quash future declarations.

The 31-25 party-line vote in the House comes even as Ducey’s order, issued in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, still remains in place. That, according to Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, is unacceptable.

Nothing in SCR 1003 can change that.

But Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said that, if ratified by voters, the measure will limit the chances that any future governor can follow suit.

“If this last COVID emergency taught us nothing else, it’s that the people have to be protected from the government, not protected from themselves,” he said. “They have to be protected from the power of force that is the government.”

This isn’t the only effort to restrain gubernatorial powers.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, got language inserted into one of the budget bills that limits future emergency declarations to 120 days unless the legislature agrees to one or more 30-day extensions.

But Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said this measure, which would become part of the Arizona Constitution, ensures that lawmakers have pretty much immediate power to overrule a gubernatorial decision.

It requires them to be called to the Capitol within 10 days if they are not already in session. Potentially more significant, it spells out that any special session does not end until the state of emergency is terminated, whether by the governor or the legislature.

That’s important because the measure, if approved by voters, says lawmakers can do more than simply vacate the emergency declaration.

They also can leave the declaration in place but can terminate, modify or continue any individual executive order. It even would permit the legislature to issue its own executive orders which would have the same force and effect as if handed down by the governor.

Finchem said it restores the balance of power to where it should be: with the folks closest to the people.

“Where there is a tyranny, whether it’s petty or massive, we are the ones that our constituents turn to,” he said.

“I can guarantee you that if you were to pick up the phone and try and call Gov. Ducey you would not reach him,” Finchem told his colleagues. “But if your constituents call you, I’m pretty sure you’ll pick up the phone and speak with them.”

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, said she understands the frustration — and why lawmakers are unhappy with the governor.

“People on both side of the aisle didn’t necessarily like what was going on and how Gov. Ducey was conducting the emergency declaration and how all of his emergency orders came out,” she said. And Powers Hannley said both Democrats and Republicans wanted a special session last year when Ducey issued various directives.

In many cases, the reasons were different, with Democrats saying he was not doing enough to protect public health while many Republicans accused him of overreach with stay-at-home orders and business closures.

But Powers Hannley said what’s in SCR 1003 amounts to having the legislature micromanage any emergency.

“I think this is another example of the legislature trying to run different parts of the government,” she said. “We don’t get to run everything.”

Finchem, however, said what’s happened during the past 15 months proves to him there needs to be an option for legislative intervention.

“It is our job to represent the people and stand in the way of an abusive behavior,” he said. “And that’s what this has been.”

And Finchem said the fact the emergency remains in place “is the best reason in the world to pass this bill, this day.”

Hoffman agreed.

“It is time for this emergency order to end. Period. Stop all. End of story. Turn it off,” he said.

The measure does give a governor whose orders are overridden a right of appeal of sorts.

If he or she challenges the action of lawmakers, they have to reaffirm their action — and have to do it with the backing of at least 60% of the House and Senate. Failure to get that margin allows the gubernatorial powers to continue.

But there’s also a provision to keep the governor from playing games.

It spells out that if the legislature terminates the state of emergency, the governor can’t turn around and simply declare another one “arising out of the same conditions for which the terminated state of emergency was proclaimed.”

State senators already have approved the measure, albeit with slightly different wording. They now need to ratify the changes made in the House.

 

 

 

 

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