Lawmakers prepare to suspend or end session due to coronavirus

By: - March 16, 2020 2:40 pm

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Arizona lawmakers and their staff will continue to meet Tuesday and plan to pass a budget that extends current spending levels this week after federal and local public health officials said people shouldn’t gather in groups larger than 10 people to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, the Arizona House of Representatives cancelled its committee hearings for the week. House Speaker Rusty Bowers made the announcement from the dais as the chamber convened Monday afternoon to begin its work for the week. Bowers said the plan at the moment is for lawmakers to pass a “baseline budget” along with about two dozen “non-controversial” bills that have bipartisan support and are needed to allow state agencies to operate.

“Anything that entails any floor debate, we’re just pushing it off,” Bowers said of the other legislation that lawmakers had been considering this session.

Bowers said the coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19, is a serious matter for lawmakers.

“We’re trying to be responsible. Some of us have underlying health conditions,” he said.

Senate President Karen Fann said the chamber will “take this one day at a time” after meeting with leaders from both parties.

No committees will meet Tuesday, said Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for the Senate GOP.

Little is known about the illness, but as it has spread around the world – nearly 182,000 cases have been confirmed, and more than 7,100 people have died – it has become clear that the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable. 

Bowers said that further details about what the legislature will be doing this week, and in the coming weeks, will come soon – possibly later Monday.

The legislature is already missing lawmakers. The House applauded when Bowers mentioned Dr. Amish Shah, a Phoenix Democrat, who is working as an emergency room doctor and has said he won’t return to the Capitol in 2020.

In the Senate, three members were absent: Republican Sens. Paul Boyer and Heather Carter and Sen. Juan Mendez, a Phoenix Democrat. Mendez is out sick, but not from COVID-19 illness, said Aaron Lantham, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

The Yellow Sheet Report, a high-priced insider newsletter, reported March 13 that Boyer and Carter will be staying away during the coronavirus pandemic. Carter is a primary caregiver for an elderly family member, while Boyer has an infant at home, the publication reported.

Carter said in a tweet it’s irresponsible for lawmakers to convene unless there’s a plan “that focuses on immediate action to address health, life and safety” in the state.

How you can tell if you might have been impacted

Symptoms of coronavirus resemble that of the flu. So, if you’re experiencing coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath, you should consider getting checked out. Call your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center or emergency room — but call the health care provider before you go so they can be prepared for your arrival. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is taking COVID-19 calls: 1-844-542-8201

How it spreads

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

How to prevent spreading it

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. Don’t use your hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces frequently, including counter tops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.
  • Contain: if you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better.

**UPDATED: This story has been updated to include information from the Senate’s activities on March 16.

Reporter Laura Gomez contributed to this story.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.