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House passes sharp limits on states of emergency, as COVID-19 emergency status continues
Gov. Doug Ducey announces a new executive order in response to the rising COVID-19 cases in the state during a news conference in Phoenix June 29, 2020. Ducey ordered the closing of bars, gyms, theaters, waterparks and tubing. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic | Pool photo
House Republicans approved severe limits on states of emergency, in a clear move against proclamations made during the pandemic.
Arizona has been in a state of emergency because of COVID-19 since March of 2020, which has allowed Gov. Doug Ducey to mobilize efforts to support vaccination and monitoring of the virus, as well as receive $2 trillion in federal CARES Act money.
State law currently doesn’t limit how long a state of emergency can last. The legislation that cleared the state House of Representatives on Wednesday would limit that to just 14 days — unless the governor calls a special session of the legislature to determine what actions to take next and whether or not to extend the state of emergency.
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House Bill 2471, which passed on a 31-28 vote, places much stiffer limits on states of emergency than a Senate proposal that won approval in the upper chamber earlier this month. That bill would allow emergency declarations to stand for a total of 120 days in 30 day increments before expiring.
Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Phoenix, questioned the logic behind the bill, and said limiting a state of emergency to only 14 days ignores the reality that the emergency might last past those two weeks, and impede the gathering of the special session.
“What if there is a flood or a natural disaster…that would prevent us from coming into a special session?” she asked.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, was dismissive of the concern, saying that it’s unlikely a single disaster would prevent all legislators from fulfilling their duties as public servants.
“Our responsibility as legislators is to overcome those obstacles. We do what we can. I don’t think everybody lives on the other side of the river and won’t be able to come here,” he said.
Butler reiterated that some emergencies may affect the availability of all legislators, citing a nuclear meltdown as a possible example.
“I see us holding session in heaven then, at that point,” Carroll responded dryly.
Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, called HB2471 a “bad bill” because it handcuffed the governor’s ability to respond to varied emergencies. Natural disasters are handled very differently from ongoing public health concerns like COVID-19.
“This is a one-size-fits-all approach, and I would say that emergencies are not a one-size-fits-all situation,” she said. “We should have flexibility in how we respond to emergencies and not hamstring the government.”
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