Arizona Legislature ends 2015 session after Senate adjourns while House still voting bills

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PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature signed off on major parts of new Gov. Doug Ducey's agenda during the 81-day session that ended early Friday. But the lawmakers also rebuffed the governor in several areas despite his efforts to persuade fellow Republicans who control the chambers to give him what he wanted.

Republican victories include a little-noticed $30 million tax cut for businesses that isn't accounted for in the Legislature's own budget forecasts. It passed early Friday with just one vote to spare. Ducey didn't push for the wording in a bigger tax bill, but he said recently that he would generally be supportive.

The Legislature handed the governor a victory when it passed an income-tax indexing bill that he called for in his state of the state address. That bill will cut revenue by an estimated $15 million by preventing taxpayers from being pushed into higher tax brackets if they get raises.

Those cuts help the governor keep his campaign promise that he would ask for tax cuts every year in office despite a major deficit that led to cuts to universities, social services programs and only flat spending for K-12 schools.

Ducey also won on two pieces of legislation that help growing business — a bill designed to aid microbreweries keep their restaurants while growing into major beer producers and one that overhauls regulations for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

But the governor was rebuffed on his effort to create a new inspector general with broad policing powers over state agencies. That bill was rolled out in mid-March and immediately drew opposition because of its broad powers and lack of transparency. Efforts to tweak the legislation to gain support from Republicans in the Senate fell flat, and it died without ever getting a vote.

The Legislature also turned away an effort to settle a dispute between Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas.

The end of the shortest session in nearly 50 years came early Friday after senators tired of waiting for the House to act made a motion to adjourn. Republican leaders in the House were stunned, and one of their most coveted bills died, even though it had enough votes to pass.

The "ballot harvesting" bill banning the collection of early ballots by get-out-the-vote groups was being bemoaned by Democrats about 1 a.m. Friday when House Speaker David Gowan announced the Senate had adjourned for the year. In an hour of confusion, Republican House leaders refused to accept the Senate adjournment committee and eventually resumed working on legislation.

"Two Republican members already left. I believe two Democrat members already left. We were shaking on a quorum, and some members just didn't want to wait anymore," said Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who was on the Senate committee. "That's what happened."

The only bills that could move after the Senate adjourned were ones that had already passed the House, been amended by the Senate and only needed a final vote.

That left the election bill that was a key Republican priority dead because it had been amended in the House and needed a Senate vote to go to Ducey. Many other bills also fell by the wayside.

"I've never seen such disarray, chaos, confusion, anger within the Republican caucus, anger between Republicans in the House and Senate," said Rep. Bruce Wheeler, the assistant Democratic leader. "It's a complete failure. The governor's office is upset, and Republicans on both sides and both caucuses are upset."

The Legislature's swift adoption of a $9.1 billion budget last month set a rapid pace for the session

Concerns about Ducey's inspector general proposal doomed it for the year.

"It's a big concept, a big idea," said Senate President Andy Biggs, like Ducey a Republican. "And we're used to tackling big ideas. But we wanted to make sure we got it just so."

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato blamed the failure on "special interests and lobbyists doing shady business with the state." Ducey won't stop trying to root out fraud, waste and abuse in state government, Scarpinato said.

The Legislature also acted on another of Ducey's priorities, passing a bill allowing the state to issue driver's licenses that meet federal standards required under the 2005 REAL ID Act. Ducey pushed for the legislation because the U.S. Transportation Security Administration may require licenses compliant with REAL ID to board airplanes as early as next year.

The 81-day Legislative session was the shortest since the 1968 Legislature adjourned in just 74 days, according to records compiled by the Arizona Capitol Times. Lawmakers actually adjourned early on the 82rd day, but it still officially was day 81 under the Legislature's rules.

Democrats have criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature and the governor for enacting a budget that cuts nearly $100 million from universities, leaves K-12 funding essentially flat and cuts from Medicaid and other social programs.

But Biggs said the cuts are not as bad as critics say. "I think when people quit passing around misinformation, you're going to find a lot of satisfied customers," he said.

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