Arizona Legislature updates: Ducey wants to reopen schools, cut taxes, keep state open


Arizona state elected officials kick off their work on Monday, with an annual address from the governor that won’t have all the usual fanfare.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s livestreamed State of the State comes as Arizona and the nation face a pandemic, a recent right-wing insurrection and an economic downturn.

The first day of Arizona’s legislative session started on Monday.
Gov. Doug Ducey gave his annual State of the State address Monday, a short speech with few specifics on what’s to come in the legislative session.
Follow this liveblog throughout the day to get updates from our reporters on the governor and Legislature.

5 p.m.: Ducey supporters liked what they heard
Fans of Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2021 State of the State address included business leaders, school choice advocates and former Republican lawmakers, among others.

“Ducey nails it in Arizona State of the State address,” the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce wrote on Twitter, quoting the governor’s remarks about moving forward with resilience and compassion.

Yuma County Supervisor Jonathan Lines, former chair of the Arizona Republican Party, said Ducey showed “great leadership” in terms of vaccine rollout plans and “much needed tax reform.”

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer called the speech “powerful,” applauding Ducey’s focus on the COVID-19 vaccine and business liability protections.

The Arizona Charter Schools Association said Ducey hit “the right notes on K-12,” while outgoing state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, thanked the governor for “highlighting the hidden and equally devastating costs of the pandemic” in schools.

Ducey also got a shoutout from Arizona State Parks and Trails for mentioning a desire to guard against wildfires to “stay on top of that ever-present risk.”

“Thank you to @dougducey and @azstateforestry for their commitment to preventing wildfires!” the agency wrote.

— Maria Polletta

4:30 p.m.: Democrats criticize Ducey speech for lacking detail
Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups were quick to pan Gov. Doug Ducey for what they called a tone-deaf State of the State address that ignored Arizonans in crisis.


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During his 22-minute speech, the Republican leader mentioned lack of income, evictions, foreclosures and “personal anguish” only as reasons why Arizona should not implement a lockdown.

“He said nothing about streamlining our overly complicated and ineffective unemployment insurance program, or increasing the second lowest in the nation amount,” Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, wrote on Twitter.

“He said nothing about providing funds to help struggling families who can’t make next month’s rent or mortgage or extending the eviction moratorium and making the process to apply for it more simple.”

Emily Kirkland, executive director of Progress Arizona, criticized the governor for “manag(ing) to give a speech that didn’t offer any concrete policy proposals … or any acknowledgment of reality.”

And Chispa Arizona, an environmental justice organization, mocked Ducey for “touting tourism and tax cuts while 1 in 3 families experience food insecurity.”

“(There are) 10,000 people contracting COVID-19 daily; 93,000 families facing possible evictions; 200,000 unemployed,” the group wrote in a series of Twitter posts.

“Maybe just stop evictions? Maybe just extend the eviction moratorium? Maybe pass 12-week family leave? Maybe, just maybe, do something about the #StateofCrisis you’ve perpetuated.”

— Maria Polletta

3:50 p.m.: Mayor Gallego says Ducey took ‘cheap shots’ at mayors seeking stricter COVID-19 action
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego wasted no time firing back at Gov. Doug Ducey for an indirect shot he took at her and other mayors who have advocated for more aggressive COVID-19 prevention measures.

After the governor said during his State of the State address that he had no desire to “hand over the keys to mayors who have expressed every intention of locking down their cities,” Gallego said city leaders deserve a governor who will work with them to “discuss solutions, rather than scoring cheap shots.”

“It is not lockdown or nothing,” the Democrat wrote in a series of posts on Twitter, calling the lack of new prevention measures “disappointing.”

“The numbers in AZ speak for themselves. Our current actions are not working, and we are losing too many lives. We need state leadership now.”

— Maria Polletta

3:45 p.m.: Ducey makes no mention of housing help as more than 200K Arizonans face eviction
One topic noticeably absent from Gov. Doug Ducey’s State of the State address: help for the 200,000-plus Arizonans facing eviction and the 10,000-plus already experiencing homelessness.

Housing advocates across the state have called on the governor to allocate more money for rental assistance for people impacted by COVID-19’s economic side effects. The governor’s office allocated about $20 million of federal money to assist renters in need last year.

Ducey mentioned evictions in his speech only when citing the unintended consequences of COVID-19 “lockdowns” that close businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. He boasted that Arizona never had a “lockdown,” which he believes put the state in a better economic position. However, evictions still loom.

Research from October showed Arizona renters owe at least $178 million to landlords and as many as 250,000 renters in the state could face eviction when federal eviction moratoriums end, according to the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

The governor also did not mention homelessness in his speech, although homelessness has been on the rise in the state for several years and is expected to hit record numbers this year as COVID-19 continues to ravage the state and its economy.

Leading up to the governor’s address, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tweeted that she hoped Ducey would use the speech to announce more state funding to fight homelessness.

“Phoenix has invested more than $30 million but there is so much more to do. This is a regional issue that needs state leadership,” Gallego tweeted.

— Jessica Boehm

3:30 p.m.: Education advocates worry about Ducey’s comments
Ducey’s statement that “we will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure” caught criticism online from educators and others.

“This is a horrifying statement,” Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale, and also a member of the Pendergast School District board, tweeted. “It sounds as if the Governor is threatening school districts to open up to in-person learning or he won’t fund us.”

Arizona schools are funded per student, and online students are funded at a rate lower than in-person students. Over the summer, Ducey had promised to send enough federal funding to schools to stabilize budgets, so online students would be funded at the same rate as in-person students. However, grants using federal dollars for some schools came up short, leaving schools to scramble for the difference.

“It sounds like a threat to me,” Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, said. “Typically, when you hear that phrase it means that they think that schools are overfunded.”

— Lily Altavena

2:45 p.m.: What’s to come in Ducey’s budget?
Gov. Doug Ducey hinted at a few items that could be in his budget proposal on Friday.

There will be a tax cut or reform of some kind.

He said there is “general agreement” among lawmakers for a COVID-19 liability protection that would shield certain organizations from liability if someone gets sick.

He foreshadowed a “modernized gaming compact,” something the legislature and Governor’s Office have deliberated over for years.

Other topics he mentioned: broadband expansion, telemedicine access, better transportation infrastructure, water, law enforcement training, criminal justice reform, wildfire protection and shrinking the footprint of government buildings.

— Rachel Leingang

2:35 p.m.: Shortest Ducey annual State of the State
Gov. Doug Ducey wrapped his remarks at 2:35 p.m.

This year’s State of the State was Ducey’s shortest since he became governor.

Last year, his speech stretched more than an hour.

But the livestreamed speech, stripped of any fanfare, clocked in at about 22 minutes.

— Rachel Leingang and Maria Polletta

2:35 p.m.: Ducey says he will seek to ‘reform and lower taxes’ in coming legislative session
Gov. Doug Ducey proposed trying to “reform and lower taxes” in the coming legislative session, despite the economic devastation caused by the pandemic and the long list of people who still need basic assistance to get by.

The state’s finances have not taken the extreme downturn that many feared at the outset of the pandemic, thanks in large part to cash infusions from the federal government. Ducey’s use of these funds – and his decision to not use all of the money – has drawn criticism.

He did not specifically say what measures this could include. His budget proposal will be released on Friday and should contain details.

Each year he has been in office, Ducey has proposed some kind of tax break.

“We’ve simplified the code, lowered all rates, protected them against inflation and eliminated an entire tax bracket,” he said. “In all of this, we’ve proven that our government can fulfill every obligation and answer the unexpected needs of a growing state, without raising taxes.”

— Rachel Leingang

2:30 p.m.: Education proposals target in-person learning
The governor advocated for an imminent return to in-person school for all students, noting that children have lost out on “experiences that can’t be duplicated on a computer screen.” Teachers started receiving the vaccine in Maricopa County this week.

He added that the state should put resources into helping those who have fallen behind catch up, particularly students of color and those in low-income communities. Early data from school districts shows lagging academic achievement among students, pointing to a need for intervention.

“Summer school, longer school days, one-on-one targeted instruction, tutoring,” he said. “It should be our goal that every student graduates high school on time and at grade level.”

— Lily Altavena

2:25 p.m.: Ducey defends his actions on COVID-19 pandemic
Gov. Doug Ducey defended his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and thanked those who have worked on the frontlines, from health care workers to the Arizona National Guard.

He noted that the vaccine, which offers hope that the pandemic may wind down, needs to be distributed faster.

He said he has heard disagreements on his decisions throughout the pandemic and constant questions about more aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. He has resisted lockdowns and bans on gatherings.

Arizona has — twice — been at the top of the nation’s outbreaks in cases per 100,000, and is currently one of the world’s hotspots for the virus, with cases and hospitalizations at higher levels than they were during the first wave in the summer.

“If we’re really all in this together, then we have to appreciate that for many families, lockdown doesn’t spell inconvenience; it spells catastrophe. Zero income, inability to make a payment, eviction, foreclosure, and real personal anguish,” he said.

He pointed to other states that have instituted more aggressive measures but still have struggled to bring their cases down. He said lockdowns carry other problems, like social isolation, mental health issues, addiction and economic woe.

He said he won’t end the state’s public health emergency because the state is in a public health emergency. He also said he won’t “hand over” the state to mayors who want lockdowns.

“Here’s the short of it: Arizona has taken the measured course, and all the same strengths that carried us through our worst days will carry us forward. All fifty states are focused now on saving lives, distributing the vaccine, and adding jobs. And in meeting these challenges, no state is better prepared than Arizona,” he said.

— Rachel Leingang

2:15 p.m.: Ducey calls U.S. Capitol riots ‘sickening’
Gov. Doug Ducey addressed the violence at the U.S. Capitol last week early in his remarks, but did not specifically say who he believed incited the violence or mention anyone involved by name.

He noted that he met with Arizona legislative leaders in both parties on Friday, where they all had a “serious and cordial exchange,” which he said was a “stark contrast to the violent and destructive rioting at our nation’s Capitol.”

“It was a sickening day in Washington D.C., that no American will ever forget,” Ducey said. “In the United States of America, violence and vandalism have no place in the people’s House. Perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Let us condemn it and resolve that it never happens again.”

He said that Arizona leaders will do their part to “bind up the nation’s wounds.”

“Here, we will conduct ourselves with integrity, and respect for each other and for the United States Constitution.”

— Rachel Leingang

2:10 p.m.: State of the State begins
Gov. Doug Ducey seventh State of the State address began at about 2:10 p.m, delayed because of a debate over pandemic protocols in the Arizona Senate.

He is speaking via livestream from his office at the Arizona Capitol, which is carried at

2 p.m.: Debate over remote voting for pandemic delays State of the State start
The rift in the Republican party regarding the pandemic response became apparent quickly in the Senate on Monday after the niceties of being sworn in and introducing guests concluded.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, opposed passing rules on procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic because the rules allow lawmakers to vote remotely from their offices.

She called for a roll-call vote on the procedures.

Fann also reminded members of the timing with the governor’s State of the State speech planned for 2 p.m. as the debate delayed that event. The governor issued a notice as 2 p.m. approached noting that his presentation would not take place until the chambers concluded their business.

The debate over remote voting showed how challenging procedures might be this session with some lawmakers participating remotely from their office.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, was called upon first to vote. She was participating from her office because she refuses to wear a mask as required on the floor. Her audio was substantially louder than previous remarks she made. Then moments later when she spoke again she was inaudible, at least in the gallery.

Before the vote, Fann explained to the members that the remote voting procedures were developed because of the narrow divide among Republicans and Democrats that would have “pretty much shut us down” with regard to voting on controversial issues if any members were out sick or quarantining.

Livingston and Ugenti-Rita only got seven other Republicans to vote with them in opposition to the remote-voting rule, so the issue failed.

Fann offered an apologetic tone when her procedural rules passed but with nine members opposed. Amid her closing remarks on the issue she had to remind Ugenti-Rita to pull up her mask.

“I don’t want anybody getting sick and going home and infecting their parents and their kids or anyone else,” Fann said.

— Ryan Randazzo

1:15 p.m.: Townsend joins via video after refusing to follow mask protocol
Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said before the session that she would not follow the protocol to wear masks as required by Sen. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who was again voted as the president of the Senate.

Townsend thus had to participate via video from her office and could not be on the floor of the Senate. A screen showing Townsend and other offices was placed at the front of the room.

While other members were allowed a moment to introduce family in the audience, such as Sen. Wendy Rogers and her grandchildren, Townsend had to use her moment to introduce family via the video link.

She had two family members in the office and was barely audible to those in the gallery as she introduced them.

The low volume level could present an issue later in the session if other members participate that way.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, also participated via video link from her office though she wore a mask at least part of the time during the ceremony.

— Ryan Randazzo

1 p.m.: Bowers reelected as House speaker
Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, has been reelected to another term as speaker of the House of Representatives, quelling a revolt among some members of his caucus.

Bowers has rankled several Republican House members over the last year, such as with his refusal to support calls for a special session on the pandemic or to overturn the results of the presidential election.

And with Republicans holding only the narrowest of majorities, with 31 votes to the Democrats’ 29, the disunity cast a question over how Bowers might muster enough support to lead the House for another year.

Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said in a public letter Dec.ember 14 that he would not vote for Bowers, depriving the speaker of the 31 votes he would need to hold on to his leadership role unless some Democrats would vote for him.

Democrats, in turn, began to wonder if they could leverage the infighting to their advantage.

But Roberts ultimately backed down and said Tuesday morning he would support Bowers after talking with him.

That gave Bowers the 31 votes he needed.

— Andrew Oxford

12:50 p.m.: Ugenti-Rita criticizes Ducey’s speech in advance
In a sign of what may be to come, one Republican lawmaker criticized Gov. Doug Ducey’s theme for this year’s State of the State, “Resilient.”

“#OutOfTouch,” Arizona Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, wrote on Twitter today. “The Gov has decimated businesses, promoted isolation, stripped people of their liberties, gutted the legislature, refused to defend our children against teacher sickouts, ran the state on borrowed money from the feds & you characterize the last year as resilient?”

With a new contingent of Republicans getting sworn in to the House and Senate on Monday, Ducey now confronts a harder-right GOP caucus that may be less friendly to his legislative priorities.

Tensions between Ducey, some state lawmakers and the head of the Arizona Republican Party boiled over after he refused to go along with those who peddled baseless election fraud theories and sought to undermine Arizonans’ faith in a system Ducey defended. And those relationships have continued to deteriorate.

Some lawmakers have questioned his use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic and said the Legislature should have a stronger role in the state’s response.

While he likely doesn’t have the votes to push through major legacy projects this year, post-election splintering within the GOP could make room for bipartisan coalitions of moderates.

— Rachel Leingang and Maria Polletta

12:45 p.m.: House members taking oath separately depending on mask usage
Members of the Arizona House of Representatives are taking the oath of office on a very unusual first day of the session.

The ceremony is split in two. Lawmakers who will not wear a mask are taking their oath separately from those who are wearing masks.

— Andrew Oxford

12:40 p.m.: Fann easily reelected as Senate president
After Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel swore in the Senate members, Republican Karen Fann was nominated by Rick Gray to serve as president, as she did last year, and she was unanimously voted into that position.

— Ryan Randazzo

12:30 p.m.: Democratic lawmakers may take action related to US Capitol riot
“No option is off the table” when it comes to imposing consequences on Republican officials who participated in last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol, Democratic lawmakers said Monday.

“We are open to a number of different actions,” House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, told reporters during a question-and-answer session that followed the unveiling of his party’s legislative priorities.

“Our caucus will get together, and we’ll have conversations about it, because it’s extremely important,” he said. “Anytime that you have a member who took the oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution who takes action against that oath, that is extremely serious. So, no option is off the table.”

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment disqualifies those who have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from serving as state or federal officials.

Bolding’s remarks followed calls for the expulsion of state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, who has insisted he did not participate in Wednesday’s riots, despite having said he was scheduled to speak at a U.S. Capitol protest that day. Finchem also posted a photo online of rioters on the steps of the building, saying the mob was “what happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.”

Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, also attended the D.C. rally, saying on social media Wednesday that it was “D-Day in D.C.” to support outgoing President Donald Trump. But Kern already is set to leave the House after his replacement is sworn in Monday afternoon.

Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, echoed Bolding’s comments, noting that she’d been “inundated with phone calls and emails from constituents demanding that there be accountability for folks that helped to agitate and rile up that situation.”

“I think many of us are still reeling from what we witnessed in Washington, D.C. — clearly, it was the most un-American behavior that you could ever display,” Rios said. “At the end of the day, I think constituents want to be assured that there is accountability and, more importantly, that something like that never happens again.”

— Maria Polletta

11:45 p.m.: Small protest outside Capitol ahead of events
The state Capitol complex remains encircled by two layers of chain link fence, and the only people being allowed inside are lawmakers, staff and the few guests of lawmakers being sworn in.

Security and Capitol police patrolled the fence Monday morning.

A few protestors stood out front of the complex waving flags. In front of the Executive Tower, two men sat in a white minivan with political statements stenciled on the windows, including “Recall Lord Ducey now,” and “I don’t need permission I have rights.”

On the other side of a van was a less coherent message about Trump voters not being racist and Biden supporters approving of pedophilia.

In the Arizona Senate, a few guests of each member were allowed to sit spaced apart in the gallery while lawmakers gathered on the Senate floor, all wearing masks.

Visitors had to put their face near a tablet at the Senate entrance to take their temperature.

Sen. Wendy Rogers showed two young children her desk adorned with a model military airplane, and the color guard rehearsed its procession before things got under way.

— Ryan Randazzo

11:20 a.m.: A rundown of the day’s schedule
The legislative session begins at noon with formalities and the election of leaders.

The latter could be interesting in the House of Representatives, or could have been.

Some Republicans have clashed with Speaker Rusty Bowers, particularly over the response to the pandemic and his refusal to call a special session to overturn the results of the election. With the caucus holding only 31 of 60 seats in the chamber, he would need every vote from his members to remain in his leadership post.

Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, said in mid-December he would not vote for Bowers but announced Monday morning he had reversed his position after talking with the speaker.

That potentially smooths the leadership votes in the House.

Gov. Doug Ducey is scheduled to address the Legislature electronically around 2 p.m.

Ultimately, it will be an opening day of the session unlike any other as guests have been limited, a fence surrounds the Capitol and observers expect a shorter speech from the governor.

— Andrew Oxford

10:50 a.m.: Democrats release legislative priorities
Democratic leaders at the Legislature unveiled their priorities for the legislative session on Monday morning, calling for lawmakers to respond to COVID-19 by prioritizing the equitable distribution of vaccines, relief for small businesses, improvements to unemployment insurance and extending an eviction moratorium.

“Our government’s response has failed to meet this historic challenge,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen.

With more than 10,000 Arizonans dead and the unemployment rate at its highest level in at least 8 years, Democratic legislators said they want to pass plans for streamlining unemployment insurance and housing assistance programs.

But Democrats remain a few votes short of the majority in both the House and Senate, meaning they need Republican support to pass any of their priorities.

“My hope is our Republican colleagues are aware and acknowledging Arizonans are suffering and this should not be a partisan issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

Beyond COVID-19, Democratic leaders said other priorities this session include criminal justice reform and voting rights, anticipating efforts to change how Arizonans can vote and how votes are counted following President Donald Trump’s defeat in the state last year.

Democrats were optimistic, though, that some of these priorities will have bipartisan support this session.

A proposal to equip every state police officer with body cameras passed the House last year, for example.

And Republican leaders in the House have launched a criminal justice reform committee this session and the new majority leader, Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said the issue will be a priority for him, too.

— Andrew Oxford

10:30 a.m.: Here’s what to expect from State of the State
Gov. Doug Ducey’s seventh State of the State starts at 2 p.m. Instead of being delivered to a packed legislative crowd, it will be delivered from his office via livestream.

The Arizona Republic/azcentral will carry a stream of it on our website at that time.

Some of the biggest issues facing the state are sure to come up — COVID-19, its health and financial impacts and the rollout of vaccinations and relief packages; K-12 education; the state’s budget situation and hints of what could come in Ducey’s budget proposal.

The speech comes at a time of intense GOP infighting after President Donald Trump’s loss and an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

Here’s more details on what we expect to hear in Ducey’s speech.

— Maria Polletta and Rachel Leingang


AUTHOR: Maria Polletta and Rachel Leingang

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