Gov. Doug Ducey is ratcheting up the pressure on GOP lawmakers to reach an agreement on the budget, vowing not to sign any other legislation that reaches his desk until he gets a budget, and backing up his threat by vetoing 22 bills.
Ducey made the announcement in response to both the House of Representatives and Senate adjourning until June 10 after Republican legislative leaders failed to round up a majority to pass the budget deal they forged with the governor. The GOP has only a one-vote majority in both legislative chambers and Democrats oppose the proposed budget, meaning Republican lawmakers must vote unanimously to approve the plan.
“We have the opportunity to make responsible and significant investments in K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and local communities, all while delivering historic tax relief to working families and small businesses,” Ducey wrote on Twitter on Friday afternoon. “Once the budget passes, I’m willing to consider some of these other issues. But until then, I will not be signing any additional bills. Let’s focus on our jobs, get to work and pass the budget.”
The governor wasted no time acting on his ultimatum, vetoing all 22 bills that were on his desk. That list of bills included legislation to ban certain kinds of anti-racism training for government employees, a bill that would make it a felony for election officials to send early ballots to voters who don’t request them, a bill that make it easier for some low-level sex offenders to remove their names from the state’s sex offender registry and legislation improving treatment for pregnant prison inmates.
“Some are good policy, but with one month left until the end of the fiscal year, we need to focus first on passing a budget. That should be priority one. The other stuff can wait,” Ducey wrote on Twitter.
Budget negotiations fell apart this week when both the House and Senate were unable to muster the votes to pass the $12.4 billion budget deal reached by Ducey and GOP legislative leaders. House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann opted to adjourn their chambers until June 10, though they could come back sooner if they get enough votes to pass the budget.
“Truthfully, I’m not happy about it, but it’s a civics lesson reminder that it takes 31-16-1 to be successful here. Sometimes we forget about the one,” Bowers, R-Mesa, said of the governor’s vetoes and ultimatum. “I believe that the proposed budget is good, and I’m determined to keep working with our diverse caucus until there is unity to move forward. I’m optimistic that will happen soon.”
Probably the biggest sticking point is a proposal to eliminate Arizona’s graduated income tax brackets and replace them with a 2.5% flat tax rate. Some GOP lawmakers have balked at both the size of the cuts, which could cost as much as $1.9 billion when they’re fully phased in, as well as the money it would cost cities and towns, which get a share of state income tax revenue.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, have both said they won’t vote for such a big tax cut, and won’t vote for any cut unless the state compensates cities for the lost revenue. Both lawmakers have other concerns, as do other Republicans in both chambers.
Ducey’s vetoes included some high-profile pieces of legislation, some of which elicited angry responses from Democratic lawmakers and others.
One of the vetoed bills, Senate Bill 1526, would have imposed new requirements on the way the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry treats pregnant inmates. Prisons would have been prohibited from using restraints on pregnant women, required that they be provided with sufficient food and dietary supplements, and required that women be permitted to spend 72 hours with their newborn children after giving birth, among other changes. Supporters dubbed it the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act.
The bill would have also required that low- and medium-security inmates who are mothers to children under 18 be incarcerated no more than 250 miles from their children, allowed the children visitation rights at least twice a week and eliminated restrictions on the number of minor children who can visit. The corrections department would have been required to provide female inmates with sufficient feminine hygiene products, free of charge, and the measure would have imposed restrictions on the ability of male correctional officers to search or inspect female inmates who are in a state of undress.
Democratic Sen. Tony Navarrete said the bill was “a matter of basic human dignity and respect” and that he was disappointed that Ducey put his own political interests above it.
“Today in a public temper tantrum fit for a toddler, Governor Doug Ducey put his tax cut for the wealthiest Arizonans before the health and wellbeing of incarcerated pregnant women,” Navarrete said in a statement.
Another vetoed bill, Senate Bill 1074, took aim at “critical race theory,” prohibiting training against racism and sexism for government workers that “that presents any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex.” It was one of the last bills passed before the Senate went on hiatus amid the budget stalemate.
Another vetoed bill was House Bill 2792, which would have made it a Class 5 felony for an election official to send a ballot to a voter who hadn’t requested one. The legislation was a response to Democratic election officials across the country, including former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who sought to send early ballots to all voters last year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. A Maricopa County judge barred Fontes from carrying out his plan for the Democratic presidential preference election in March.
And Bowers’s House Bill 2674 would have allowed sex offenders convicted of sexual abuse of a minor who is at least 15 years old, indecent exposure, sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual extortion and misrepresenting a person’s age for purposes of committing a sexual offense to petition a judge to end their sex offender registration requirement. Offenders would have had to have been at least 35 years old and gone at least 10 years without any additional offenses to qualify.
Ducey also vetoed Senate Bill 1514, which would have required the Arizona Department of Housing to provide emergency shelter beds in western Maricopa County for homeless seniors.
“I’m not happy!” tweeted Republican Sen. David Livingston, who sponsored SB1514.
Rep. Randy Friese, a Tucson Democrat, criticized Ducey for vetoing two of his bills to establish new testing and inspection requirements for marijuana dispensaries.
“We worked in a bipartisan way to achieve consensus on & pass meaningful regulations for the new adult-use marijuana industry. To veto these needed policies in an effort to strong-arm through your regressive tax plan is irresponsible. Arizonans deserve better from their leaders,” Friese said on Twitter.
The slate of vetoes also earned Ducey a rebuke from Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who tweeted that his actions were “ridiculous,” and specifically pointed to his vetoes of the critical race theory and early ballot legislation.
“Twenty two bills that the legislative branch worked all session on. Bills that went through the process & passed & went to the executive’s desk. This tyrannical approach is dangerous to what #WeThePeople in AZ support,” Ward tweeted.
Ducey’s moratorium on non-budget legislation evokes memories of his predecessor, Jan Brewer, who issued similar ultimatums in 2012 and 2013.
***UPDATED: This story was updated to include additional information about the bills that were vetoed and comments from legislators.