Civil Unrest

As the legislative session grinds on, tempers appear to be growing thin

Stage direction: State representatives Steve Huffman and Ted Downing are hearing testimony on April 6 regarding a Senate bill that would grant a tax break for engineering and architectural services. The back-and-forth comes after House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Huffman, a Republican who represents the Casas Adobes and Oro Valley area, has silenced Downing during the Tucson Democrat's interrogation of the previous state official who had testified about the bill. Our final player is Anthony Forschino of the Department of Revenue.

Huffman: Any questions for Mr. Forschino? Mr. Downing?

Downing: May I speak?

Huffman: I recognized you. If you want to be a horse's ass, you can.

Downing: Mr. Chairman, that is impugning me, calling me a horse's ass, and I ask you to retract that right now.

Huffman: Do you have any questions for Mr. ...

Downing: Take back your statement, Mr. Chair.

Huffman: You can do whatever you want.

Downing: There are rules in this House. I call that you have impugned me. Would you retract that?

Huffman: Nope, do you have any questions for Mr. Forschino?

Downing: Uh, Mr. Chairman, I ask that you retract calling me a horse's ass. Are you going to do it?

Huffman: I didn't call you one. I said if you want to act like one.

Downing: Mr. Chairman, you are trying to defend this bill so much you're kind of stepping over bounds, and I asked Mr. Forschino--OK, I want an attorney ruling on whether or not that was impugning.

Huffman: Are there any other questions for Mr. Forschino?

Downing: I asked for an attorney ruling, and I have a right to do that as a member of this House.

Huffman: We're going to move on with this bill, and you can certainly do whatever you want to do.

Downing: I think I have to ask that it be dealt with immediately according to this.

Huffman: Are there any other questions for Mr. Forschino?

After a bit more bickering--including Downing's threat to grind committee action to a halt until attorneys came down to sort things out--Huffman apologized, and lawmakers got on with their business, passing the bill out of the committee on a 8-3 vote.

Granted, even his fellow Democrats say Downing can be exasperating at times--like just last week, when he could have blocked an educational voucher bill in committee if he hadn't been across the plaza in the Senate, testifying on behalf of his anti-dognapping bill. (The dog theft bill is still alive in the Senate.)

But the exchange in Ways and Means is not the only episode of mental meltdown at the Capitol in recent days. During a hearing last week on Senate Bill 1081, which would create a new crime of animal and environmental terrorism, House Environment Committee Chairman Joe Hart saw that the bill was in trouble and adjourned the meeting in mid-vote. Normally, a bill's failure to pass a committee vote would kill it, but in this case, House Speaker Jake Flake simply reassigned it to the Appropriations Committee, where it was awaiting a vote earlier this week.

With the session entering its 14th week, the landscape is littered with the carcasses of unsuccessful legislation. Dead, at least for the moment:

· Senate Bill 1362, which would phase in all-day kindergarten for Arizona school kids;

· SB 1347, which would grant immunity from liability lawsuits as the result of damage caused by wildlife, such as the mountain lions in Sabino Canyon;

· House Bill 2629, which would have banned smoking in public spaces and workplaces;

· HB 2564, which would allow terminally ill patients to control the administration of their own pain medicine, and possibly hasten their own death;

· House Concurrent Resolution 2016, which would have asked voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to force any initiative that raises taxes to be supported by two-thirds of voters;

· HB 2400, which would have established vested rights when a zoning application is approved or when a site plan is submitted and meets the zoning requirements, leaving taxpayers on the hook for damages following a downzoning;

· Senate Concurrent Resolution 1015, which asks Congress to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage. The legislation has passed the House, but still needs a 16th vote to pass the Senate.

With most committee action coming to an end, the action will now switch to the floors of the House and Senate, with the surviving bills making their last dash for the governor's desk. Still alive:

· HB 2507, which empowers the Pima Association of Governments to become a full-fledged regional transportation authority with the power to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax for road and transit improvements;

· HB 2418, which forbids more than three sex offenders from living in the same apartment complex;

· · HCR 2009, which asks voters to approve a plan on the November 2004 ballot to require initiative campaigns to file their petitions seven months before a general election instead of four months;

· HCR 2011, which asks voters to amend the state Constitution in November to require any measure involving a mandatory expenditure to include a way to pay for it besides the general fund;

· HB 2514, which creates a new system for schools to rein in school bullies.

With much of the business at hand being wrapped, there's one little bit of legislation that has yet to emerge: the budget, which was being kept under wraps by the GOP House leadership as of press time. One Democrat said that a leaked version showed Republicans wanted to spend $100 million less than the Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommended, which was about $300 million less than Gov. Janet Napolitano's proposed $7.2 billion budget.

The GOP's reluctance to show us the money might spring from the hammering they took in the media last year when they released a bare-bones proposal that was widely derided as "draconian."

Whatever their thinking, the Republican leadership faces a problem in passing any budget that puts the brakes on spending. Two moderate Republican senators, Linda Binder of Lake Havasu and Slade Mead of Phoenix, have told the caucus they won't support a budget Napolitano will veto, so GOP lawmakers won't have enough votes to get a stingy spending plan to the governor's desk.

Given the stalemate that's slowing the session, maybe it's no surprise that lawmakers voted to extend last call for alcohol to 2 a.m. It looks like they're going to need a few drinks by the time the session wraps up.

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