Updated Apr 24, 2014 - 4:24 pm
Arizona Legislature adjourns after 101 days
PHOENIX -- It took 101 days, one week of national outrage and countless battles.
But the Arizona Legislature did it. It officially wrapped up its 2014 session around 1:45 a.m. on Thursday, following hours of debates that began Wednesday and a last-minute threat by House legislators over a bill that extends the life of several state boards.
Now Gov. Jan Brewer will begin wading through more than 60 bills that landed on her desk in the waning days of the session. She's expected to start that action quickly, and bill signings and possible vetoes could come by the end of business Thursday.
The many actions taken by the Republican-controlled Legislature included House Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and others based on religious beliefs. The legislation thrust the Arizona Legislature once again into the national spotlight.
After a week of protests, calls for vetoes by the business community and appearances by legislators on national talk shows, the Republican governor axed the bill on Feb. 26.
There was much more to come.
Both chambers approved a series of pro-gun bills that would have allowed guns into government buildings and would have punished cities, towns and their lawmakers who enact ordinances stricter than the state's own gun laws. Brewer vetoed those two bills, too.
Legislators also spent the session battling over proposed expansions of the state's school voucher program, which allows students to use public funds for private school and other educational needs.
The Arizona Empowerment Scholarships Account program was created in 2011 for students with disabilities, but it was expanded last year to students from low-performing schools.
Nearly 700 students are currently enrolled. But proposed legislation by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, would have made an additional 100,000 to 120,000 low-income students eligible for the program. The bill was voted down after hours of debate, although other smaller expansions were successful.
For example, Brewer signed into law on Wednesday two bills that expand eligibility to siblings of students already enrolled in the program and to students with a military parent killed in action. Yet another bill, Senate Bill 1237, would have allowed all students in the program to get extra funding that is meant only for students who leave charter schools to join the program. But that provision of the bill was stripped out by an amendment late Wednesday evening.
The bill, still approved, allows parents of special-needs children enrolled in the program to get verification from an independent contractor that would allow them to receive extra funding, instead of going through the school district the child previously attended. That means school districts save money on labor associated with the approval process. The Senate gave final approval to SB1237 with a 25-3 vote. The bill is now on the governor's desk.
Another issue was the regulation of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, and Brewer could act on that bill quickly. Her staff this week expressed concern about insurance requirements for the companies and drug testing of its freelance drivers, a possible hint that a veto could be in the works.
Legislators spent a large portion of the session debating how to regulate the tech startups that allow riders to find a driver by using a mobile app.
House Bill 2262 would regulate Uber and others in some ways, but it would exempt them in many others. The House gave final approval to the bill late Wednesday, and it is now headed to the governor for action.
To the chagrin of traditional taxi and limo companies and banking and insurance lobbyists, the companies would not be forced to insure their drivers during the entire duration that they are on the job. Uber drivers are only insured from the time they accept a ride request to the time they drop off a passenger. That means a driver who is working on the road but has not yet received a request for a ride is not insured by the company unless the driver's personal insurance denies the claim, in which case Uber provides its contingent policy.
In the last days of the session, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have helped the city of Glendale cover public safety costs during next year's Super Bowl. Senate President Andy Biggs criticized Glendale for ``fiscal mismanagement'' as the bill that had earlier passed the House went down on a 16-10 vote. Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers said the city cannot afford to cover those costs on its own, and it might not be able to host in the future without assistance.
Lawmakers also passed legislation stripping the Arizona Citizens Clean Commission of authority to oversee candidates who don't participate in the public funding program; a bill that could make human smugglers convicted of murder eligible for the death penalty; and one that that would speed up the certification process for high-caliber firearms for private citizens.
A last-minute standoff between the House and the Senate led to an hours-long delay in what is referred to as ``sine die,'' which is the Latin way of saying the session has adjourned.
The impasse was over Senate Bill 1314 by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, which originally would have continued the existence of the Board of Barbers, which regulates the profession. But the House tacked on continuations of several other agencies at the last minute that had been in separate Senate bills the House never moved. Another provision changed the intent of a law overseeing the state's underground storage tank cleanup fund.
That angered many in the Senate who called the actions a travesty, in part because some of the agencies had been given only short extensions by the Senate because of past problems. In the end, the Senate approved the bill 17-11 to avoid delaying adjournment even longer.
Although the session has ended, legislators will come back soon for a special session to address the new child welfare agency that is being created. Brewer pulled Children's Protective Services from the Department of Economic Security in January after authorities discovered 6,600 child-abuse and neglect cases that were not investigated between late 2009 and last November. Brewer appointed Charles Flanagan, then the director of the state juvenile corrections department, to lead the new agency. But the Legislature must still create and fund the agency through legislation.