PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona legislative Republicans are pushing to cut off broad emergency powers that Gov. Doug Ducey has used to restrict large gatherings and business occupancy during the coronavirus pandemic.
A Senate committee voted Monday to end the public health emergency that gives the state access to millions of dollars in federal funds and expands Ducey’s powers. The Government Committee also advanced various proposals that would make it easier for lawmakers to shut down the governor’s powers during a future emergency.
Some Republican lawmakers have been infuriated by Ducey’s decision to unilaterally impose executive orders closing or restricting businesses to limit opportunities for COVID-19 to spread. They say the governor should have authority to immediately respond to a pressing emergency, but eventually the Legislature should have a say in whether restrictive measures are allowed to continue.
“Checks and balances are extremely important, even in an emergency,” said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican.
Democrats say involving the Legislature would slow down the state’s response to an emergency and inject politics into crucial life-and-death decisions.
“This is a power grab and this is politics,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat. “This isn’t addressing the pandemic. This isn’t helping people who are dying right now.”
C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Ducey, declined to comment directly on the legislation, noting the governor’s preference to avoid publicly discussing bills before the Legislature.
Ducey, a Republican, said during his state-of-the-state address earlier this year that ending the health emergency would empower mayors to impose lockdowns that he’s used his emergency authority to block.
“Why not end the public health emergency? It’s simple — because we are in a public health emergency,” Ducey said. “I’ve been entrusted by the people of Arizona with this responsibility.”
Ducey declared the public health emergency on March 11 as the number of coronavirus cases began rising in the United States. That frees up money and gives him power to effectively suspend the enforcement of laws or impose new rules.
Lawmakers can end the public health emergency without Ducey’s signature, but the Republicans looking to do so are unlikely to garner majority votes they’ll need in both legislative chambers. Senate Democrats are universally opposed, and at least one Republican has serious reservations. That’s enough opposition to tank it.
“It would be my preference that we find another way to address emergency powers,” said Republican Sen. T.J. Shope of Coolidge, one of Ducey’s staunchest legislative allies.
But there may be a legislative path to restricting the governor’s future emergency powers. Shope said “it is a fair question as to whether or not those powers would be limitless,” but he’d prefer to work with the governor’s office to tweak the law while preserving authority for the governor now and in future crises.
Democrats have no interest in ending the public health emergency and would prefer to see Ducey use his authority more aggressively, said the Sen. Rebecca Rios of Phoenix, the Democratic leader.
Republicans on the Senate Government Committee voted 5-3 along party lines to end the public health emergency.
They also advanced four proposals to require that future emergency declarations automatically expire after 30 or fewer days unless they’re renewed by the Legislature. Those measures would all require either Ducey’s signature or the approval of voters.