AzAfp 2020 Session Wrap Up
Though every Arizona legislative session is unique, the 2020 regular session will stand out as one of the most unpredictable, unforgettable years in the state’s history. The session lasted a total of 135 days but was suspended for more than 40% of that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The year that began with loud, crowded committee meetings ended with near-empty buildings and remote voting for the first time in legislative history.
This session was notable in a variety of ways:
- The most bills introduced
Legislators introduced 1,734 proposals this year, surpassing the number of bills introduced in any other session on record.
- The most bills killed
While legislators introduced plenty of ideas to consider, this year saw the smallest number of bills signed into law in recorded history. Almost 95% of the proposals introduced this year did not make it to the Governor’s desk. While many bills were sidelined due to the COVID-19 interruption, political dynamics also played a role in limiting the number of ideas that passed through the legislative process.
- The most out of sync
Republicans and Democrats disagreed on high-profile issues this year, but the House and Senate gave bipartisan support to almost 90% of the bills that passed the legislative process. It was disagreements between Republicans in the House and Senate that led to sharp divisions and shaped the entire process of the session. Throughout the year, the House and Senate seemed to be operating as separate entities rather than as two equal parts of one body. House and Senate Republicans started the year by introducing their own separate budget proposals, and the chambers delayed action on the budget proposal because they were not on the same page about a COVID-19 aid package. The session extended through May because the chambers could not agree on when – and how – to end it, and the Senate’s quick vote to adjourn sine die overrode the House’s hope that senators would vote on more bills before adjourning.
- The most remote
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the way some members of the House and Senate engaged in the legislative process and changed how the public could participate in that process. Policy committees met on Zoom meetings that were broadcast to the public on the legislature’s website; legislators from around the state voted from their homes or offices rather than attending floor sessions at the Capitol. Republican and Democratic caucuses met on private Zoom meetings or conference calls while they waited for the suspension of the session to end. Access to committee hearings and floor proceedings was limited or closed for the second half of the session, and Arizonans were urged to share their comments or requests through e-mails to legislators or staff instead of in-person testimony and meetings.
A Tale of Two Budgets
Legislators began this year with a $1 billion budget surplus and a clear goal of enacting a state budget within the first few months of the session. They reached that timeline, but not in the way they hoped.
As the legislature prepared to suspend the session in March, lawmakers approved a “baseline” budget: A continuation of last year’s spending, adjusted to pay for projected growth in health care and education enrollment. The budget also provided $105 million in funding for the state to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget removed one-time funding the state spent last year, though, and did not fund many of the priorities that had been on the table for the state’s financial plan this year:
The state paid for the final phase of the “20×2020” teacher pay package that the legislature previously enacted and covered this year’s $68 million repayment of additional assistance for schools, but it did not fully restore the additional assistance funding. The budget did not include proposed new funding for the Project Rocket Program, special education, or gifted student programs.
- Infrastructure and Technology
Governor Ducey’s budget plan proposed new investments in road building and maintenance, but those priorities were not funded in the baseline budget. Neither was a proposed Statewide Cybersecurity Risk Management Program, or other programs intended to increase Arizona’s cybersecurity.
- Prisons and Jails
The state did not enact Governor Ducey’s plan to close the state prison in Florence, but did add new funding for state prison infrastructure like new locks and air conditioning units.
- Tax cuts
The budget did not include any of the tax cuts proposed by Governor Ducey and legislative Republicans. Those proposals included income tax breaks for military veteran pensions, property tax reductions, and individual income tax cuts.
When legislators return to the Capitol, they will be faced with a very different budget situation than they saw when they convened the 2020 legislative session. Early estimates indicate that the budget surplus is gone and the state faces a deficit of up to $1.1 billion due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of both the abbreviated timeline and partisan divides, 1,643 bills failed to advance at the legislature this year, including proposals relating to:
The legislature did not enact new services for AHCCCS clients, though the proposals had strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Bills to add coverage for chiropractic care and dental services for pregnant women, and to encourage women to complete post-partum visits, will be introduced again in future legislative sessions.
- Ballot Referrals
The legislature did not send any referrals to the 2020 ballot this session, though they considered proposals to end the state’s English Language Learner requirements, reaffirm the ban on “sanctuary cities,” increase taxesfor education, and make it easier to change voter-approved laws.
- Braille Literacy
The legislature did not hold a final vote on a bill to increase teacher training on braille literacy.
- Criminal Justice
There was bipartisan support for the idea of changing Arizona’s criminal justice laws this year, but the legislature did not advance bills to alter sentencing standards, add second chances, alter how law enforcement can take a suspect’s assets, and require state agencies to give most occupational licenses to individuals who have been convicted of a drug offense.
Education was on legislators’ minds this year and a large percentage of the introduced bills related to education funding or policy. The legislature did not finish working on most of those proposals, including proposals to create school innovation plans, require students to study the Holocaust and say the Pledge of Allegiance every day, and require schools to post information on instructional materials for parents to review.
- Food Safety
The Senate did not hold a final vote on a bill that would have added penalties for anyone who intentionally adds body fluids or foreign objects to food and drink.
- Kinship Care
Governor Ducey and a bipartisan majority of legislators supported a proposal to increase the stipend for families who provide foster care for a child in their family, but the priority was not enacted.
- Legislative Pay
The legislature did not hold a final vote on a bill to increase the daily reimbursement for legislators who represent areas outside Maricopa County.
- Medical Marijuana
Legislators introduced a wide range of proposals related to the state’s Medical Marijuana Program and medical marijuana research, but none reached the Governor’s desk.
The legislature did not pass a bill to prohibit retaliatory action by any health care institutions’ third-party contractors against a health professional who in good faith reports a practice that violates standards or poses a substantial patient risk.
A bill that would have waived limits on specific opioid antagonists for individuals who receive end-of-life care did not reach the Governor’s desk.
The Senate never considered a bill to change the way pawnbrokers charge fees and conduct business.
- Prior Authorization
A bill that would have required the Department of Insurance to create a uniform prior authorization request form did not receive a final vote in the Senate.
- School Safety
Legislators introduced a wide range of proposals related to school safety, but most did not reach the Governor’s desk – including bills to add school marshals, form threat assessment teams, and create safe school plans.
- Short-term Rentals
Legislators from around the state wanted to change the state’s laws on short-term rentals to address growing concerns from their constituents, but their efforts to balance the rights of homeowners with the needs of neighbors and the responsibilities of local government were not successful. None of the bills on this topic reached the Governor’s desk.
- Student Athletes
The Senate did not advance a bill that would have allowed student athletes to receive sponsorship deals.
The legislature did not enact a bill to authorize more medical professionals to practice through telemedicine, but Governor Ducey has expressed his intention to broaden access to telemedicine in permanent statute – continuing practices that began under COVID-19 executive orders this year.
- Vaping and Vaccines
For another year, the legislature did not advance proposals related to the state’s laws on vaccinations or minors’ access to vaping products.
Following the success of the Drought Contingency Plan enacted last year, policymakers hoped to address big-picture water solutions to address needs across the state. None of the bills advanced.
Crossed the Finish Line
The legislature approved 91 proposals this year to address a variety of policy issues, including:
- Agency Continuations
The legislature prioritized bills that extend the life of state agencies and regulatory boards, including the Board of Athletic Training and the Department of Health Services.
- Arizona Teachers Academy
Legislators approved a bill to expand the Arizona Teachers Academy to include teaching students who will serve students with disabilities, add accelerated models for high-need areas, and open to colleges owned or operated by a qualifying Indian tribe.
The legislature passed a bill to allow more electric providers around the state to provide broadband service.
The legislature approved Governor Ducey’s request for schools to recognize every September 25 as Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Celebration Day.
- Dental Care
The legislature passed a bill requiring AHCCCS to ask for federal authorization to reimburse the Indian Health Services and tribal facilities to cover the costs of adult dental care.
- Empowerment Scholarship Accounts
The legislature enacted a bill that allows qualifying students who live on an Indian reservation to use funding from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program for schools that are located in another state but within two miles of the state border. The bill also moves oversight of the ESA program from the Department of Education to the State Board of Education and increases funding for ESA administration.
- Hospital Assessment
The legislature enacted a bill that increases federal funding for hospitals that provide care for AHCCCS patients, by requiring the facilities to contribute the matching funds needed to bring more federal dollars to Arizona.
- Mental Health Care and Suicide Prevention
Early in the session, a bipartisan coalition worked with Governor Ducey to enact “Jake’s Law,” a bill that expands access to mental health resources and creates committees responsible for identifying new ways to ensure students and other Arizonans have access to mental health care.
The legislature also prioritized bills intended to prevent student suicides by increasing suicide prevention training for school counselors and social workers, and by providing more information about mental health resources to students.
- School and Building Safety
While most school safety bills did not advance this year, the legislature did pass a bill to allow public bodies to use executive sessions to discuss school safety plans. The legislature also passed a bill to allow public bodies to discuss any security plans and infrastructure in public session.
The legislature enacted a bill to expand the use of personal delivery devices in Arizona, and authorizedelections officials to use ballot tabulation equipment with an electronic adjudication feature.
The Senate confirmed almost 50 of Governor Ducey’s nominees to lead state agencies, boards, and commissions – including the State Forester and the Directors of the Department of Administration, Department of Child Safety, Department of Public Safety, Department of Revenue, and Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry.