PHOENIX — There were signs of progress in Arizona’s battle with COVID-19 on Monday. Governor Doug Ducey and the Director of Arizona’s Department of Health Services Dr. Cara Christ marked a half-million COVID vaccinations at State Farm Stadium.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, when Governor Ducey issued his State of Emergency, members of the Arizona Legislature have pleaded with him to share the responsibility of managing the crisis. It never happened. Now the legislature is not asking.
Senate Bill 1719, co-sponsored by Senate President Karen Fann and Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, would require the governor to convene the Statewide Emergency Council within 14 days of an emergency order. The council must meet at least once every 14 days during the length of the emergency. If it doesn’t happen, the order is rescinded.
The existing council is made up of the Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Adjutant General, the Director of Emergency Management, the Director of Transportation and the Director of Health Services.
The bill also adds the leaders and minority leaders in both chambers of the legislature to the council. “I think these decisions come out of nowhere. We’ll literally see a tweet. A press release via email saying the Governor has decided to open up all the schools,” Senator Rios said. “Now that may be the right decision. Based upon what?”
Senator Rios says while the Emergency Council already exists in statute, the Governor’s refusal to convene a meeting of the Statewide Emergency Council leaves the public and lawmakers in the dark over what and how decisions are being made.
“This adds a level of transparency to a process that currently and unfortunately does not exist. He [Governor Ducey] is operating in secrecy and making these determinations of we don’t know what,” Rios said.
A spokesman for the Governor told Capitol News Services the governor is in daily contact with Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ and the Adjutant General regarding the state’s COVID-19 response. But Senator Rios says that’s not good enough.
“I think the governor’s last press briefing was in mid-December,” Rios said. “And understandably people are frustrated not knowing why the governor is making the decisions he is making."
The bill is receiving bipartisan support. It received a unanimous vote in the Senate. Last week it passed out of the House Government and Elections Committee by a 9-4 vote. It awaits a Rules Committee hearing before going to the House floor for debate.
“The bill seems reasonable policy to me,” said House Government and Elections Committee chairman John Kavanagh. Kavanagh voted for the bill in committee and he thinks it will have enough votes to withstand a governor’s veto.
He is not as optimistic about the fates of a number of other bills which seek to limit the governor’s authority during a state of emergency.
“There are a number of termination bills that are House bills or Senate bills that are doomed to failure,” Kavanagh said. “Because the governor can veto them and we would have to go back and get 2/3rds in both chambers.” And that, Kavanagh says, is not going to happen.
Kavanagh has authored a Resolution calling for a change in the state constitution which would give the legislature the ability to terminate a state of emergency.
If it passed, the matter goes directly to voters to decide - but it will not be on the ballot until 2022.