In a narrowly divided House, Rep. Jeff Weninger says he knows what it takes to get legislation through both chambers and up to the Governor’s Office.
The Chandler Republican attributed a large part of his success to “competitiveness” throughout the legislative process. But his strategy also includes limiting his policy proposals to an amount that is reasonable for one lawmaker to control — typically 20 bills or fewer — and working with others who are interested in the bill’s concept to obtain a complete understanding of its intricacies.
Weninger said the most important trick he has learned is to “negotiate in good faith.” He said the bill language must be tight and define the exact meaning of any terminology that may be contested. It’s something he said he learned from former Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, who Weninger served with on a House committee early in his career.
“I was burned a time or two where I would negotiate with someone from the other side,” Weninger said. “So, I started being very deliberate with my language, in the future, saying, ‘OK, if I do this, would you be on board?’ because otherwise it’s just really not your bill anymore.”
And his methods paid off.
Weninger shared the highest percentage of bills successfully signed into law this session with one other Republican in the House of Representatives.
Twelve of his 15 prime sponsored bills, or 80%, were approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey. And Weninger notes that while three policies he supported as chairman of the House Commerce Committee, including HB2690, HB2201 and Rep. Justin Wilmeth’s HB2584 did not pass the Legislature, but they were included in the budget, which the governor signed.
Lawmakers passed 398 bills, 21.5% of the 1,851 bills introduced in the 2022 session. Of those 398 bills, Ducey signed 388, or about 97.5% of all the bills that were approved. The governor vetoed four bills, about 1% of those sent to the Ninth Floor.
They also introduced 152 memorials and resolutions, ranging from death resolutions to U.S. Constitutional amendments to ballot referendums. Of those, 16 were sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, including five ballot referrals.
Republican Rep. Joanne Osborne, of Goodyear, tied with Weninger for the highest batting average with about 80% of her measures being signed by the governor. Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Travis Grantham of Gilbert was close behind with a 75% batting average of his measures being signed by the governor.
The so-called batting average can be calculated by dividing the number of bills signed into law by the number of prime sponsored bills for a legislator.
Osborne, who also had 12 of her 15 bills signed into law, said she recognizes which bills will become most important to run with as decisions in committees and appropriations progress throughout the session. She said she tries to collaborate with others in a “team spirit,” whether negotiating with other industries, colleagues or government agencies.
“I don’t do tricks,” Osborne said. “There’s nothing up my sleeve. It’s purely about relationships and about a passion for what you do.”
One bill she’s especially proud of, she said, is HB2691, which will initiate a Nursing Workforce and Behavioral Health Pilot Training Program, because of its large price tag. The bill appropriates $42.5 million a year starting in fiscal year 2023 through fiscal year 2025.
Osborne said she put the bill forward to solve a “major problem for our state,” that worsened during the legislative session.
“I think all my colleagues realize this was truly important to the health and wellbeing of our people,” Osborne said. “And when our state was ranked, unfortunately, number five in the highest amount of nursing shortages, we needed to get something through.”
Arizona hospitals were ranked fifth in the nation at 37.37% for critical staffing shortages, according to January 2022 U.S. Health and Human Services data.
Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, was the leading prime sponsor of legislation in the Senate, introducing 21 bills, with almost a 67% batting average. Of those introduced, Ducey signed 14 Kerr bills this session.
Kerr said as chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee, she was co-sponsor of SB1740, which she introduced as the $1 billion Water Infrastructure Finance Authority Bill, after both chambers worked on it for six months. She noted it was “incredible to go through that process from start to finish.”
She also introduced SB1653, dubbed “Kayleigh’s law,” which she noted originated from a constituent report several sessions ago. The legislation – tried last year as SB1412 – offers lifetime protection for survivors of sexual violence and is the first of its kind in the country. Kerr said she initially was “intimidated” by the subject but knew she had “the confidence to come up with a great solution for victims’ rights.”
She said she’s learned to embrace the criticism presented by her colleagues because she uses it to make bill changes, believing the challenges result in the best crafted legislation.
“It shouldn’t be easy to pass laws,” Kerr said. “Every single law that’s passed, every bill has a profound impact on people’s lives, on industry businesses, all across the state. So, I’ve learned to appreciate how important that tension is.”
Thirty-four lawmakers were unable to get a single bill up to the Governor’s Office, including two House Republicans, Reps. Jacqueline Parker, of Mesa, and Joel John, of Buckeye.
Arizona lawmakers lingered into the summer, marking the sixth longest legislative session in state history. Rep. Robert Meza, R-Phoenix, and Sen. Lupe Chavira Contreras, D-Avondale, didn’t introduce any bills in the 167 days.