As COVID-19 cases climb, legislature unlikely to return in 2 weeks




Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The legislature is unlikely to reconvene on April 13, the target date it set when it put the 2020 session on hiatus in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a top Republican said Tuesday.

Lawmakers passed an $11.8 billion “skinny budget” on March 23 that largely continued spending levels from the current fiscal year, then adjourned with the goal of returning several weeks later to finish the session. 

But a lot has changed since then. With COVID-19 continuing to spread, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Sunday extended its “social distancing” recommendations – that people stay at least 6 feet away from each other and avoid groups of more than 10 people – through the end of April. 

And Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday issued a stay-at-home order halting in-person transactions at many businesses and mandating that people not leave their residences except for a broad list of permitted activities.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, said it’s doubtful that lawmakers will return to the Capitol on April 13.

“As it’s looking right now, it looks like we could have to extend it,” she said. “Given the fact that that’s two weeks away, then consequently, if the numbers are still climbing, we absolutely are not going to go back. It’s just not going to happen.”

When lawmakers went on hiatus, they gave Fann and her counterpart in the House of Representatives, Speaker Rusty Bowers, the ability to unilaterally change the date the legislature would reconvene.

As of Tuesday, the United States has had more than 184,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Arizona Department of Health Services reports that the state has 1,289 confirmed cases and 24 deaths. 

Fann said lawmakers could have to return to pass some sort of emergency legislation. She also noted that some lawmakers may be hopeful about passing bills of theirs that were left in limbo when legislators returned to their districts. 

The legislature will have to reconvene at some point, if for no other reason than to adjourn sine die for the year. 

“If we have to come back in because the constitution says we have to do some emergency measure, then we will figure out a way to do that, even if that’s voting remotely. But if we don’t have to come in – and if certainly we have no reason to come in – then we wouldn’t want to put people’s health at risk,” Fann said.

The House of Representatives took the unprecedented move of allowing members to vote remotely.