Gov. Doug Ducey will still give a State of the State address to open the 2021 legislative session, but with the COVID-19 outbreak worsening by the day, he may not give it on the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives.
The governor’s office and House of Representatives leadership are exploring possible alternative venues for the State of the State, Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin told the Arizona Mirror. Technically, the governor addresses the legislature at the invitation of the speaker of the House. Karamargin said it’s still undetermined what the new venue might be, and wouldn’t say what alternate sites the governor is considering.
Karamargin said the administration hasn’t determined yet whether the governor will deliver his address to a live audience, and that he could give a virtual State of the State address. It’s also possible that Ducey could still deliver his address in the House of Representatives, the spokesman said.
“The governor of Arizona has delivered a state of the state address at the beginning of legislative sessions for years. Governor Ducey will deliver a state of the state address in 2021,” Karamargin said.
The Arizona Constitution mandates that the governor “shall communicate, by message, to the legislature at every session the condition of the state, and recommend such matters as he shall deem expedient.” But it doesn’t say where or how he must deliver that annual message.
Governors traditionally give their State of the State addresses on the opening day of the new legislative session, which this year falls on Jan. 11, 2021.
Traditionally, governors give their State of the State addresses to a joint session of the legislature, delivered on the House floor. But the worsening COVID-19 situation, with infections, deaths, hospitalizations and other metrics reaching or exceeding the record highs Arizona set over the summer, has made that a less plausible scenario.
Proper social distancing would be difficult, if not impossible. During the State of the State, the House floor is jam-packed: All 90 members of the legislature sit together, along with statewide elected officials, members of the media, various guests of honor and the guests that each legislator is permitted to bring.
It’s unclear if a governor has ever delivered a State of the State address at a different location. Gov. Thomas Campbell addressed a joint session of the legislature in person in January 1919, as the second wave of the influenza pandemic abated and the third wave gained steam.
The COVID-19 situation may force other events from opening day to alternate sites, as well. Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus, said some opening day events may still be held in the House while others could move to a different venue. He couldn’t confirm whether any decisions have been made.
“Plans are being made and we look forward to having an announcement,” Wilder said.