For many reasons, the 2022 legislative session will be unusual. After a 2021 that brought an astonishing number of legislative resignations and political fights in Arizona that grabbed headlines around the world, this year we can expect to see:
New faces. Nine new legislators have been sworn into office this year. Two others moved from the House to the Senate to fill vacancies there, and another seat in the Senate waits to be filled. These lawmakers will have to navigate the policy questions and political alliances in their new workplace. The changes brought new roles to more experienced lawmakers, as well: Committee memberships shifted, giving some legislators an increased role in policymaking and leadership.
Division. In addition to partisan divides between Republicans and Democrats, sharp differences have caused rifts within each political party. While some lawmakers try to build coalitions to pursue their goals, others are publicly sharing their frustrations about their legislative colleagues. Relationships will be a major factor in the legislative process this year. That’s because both the House and Senate Republicans still have a small margin in their majority. To pass any bill, they need either a bipartisan coalition or support from every Republican. Many policies will reach this without a problem, but more controversial measures – and a state budget – will be harder to pass.
Electoral calculations. The 2022 elections will have considerable influence on policy discussions this year. The recent redistricting drew new lines for some legislators who will now be running against each other, and others are pursuing higher office while they complete their term in the legislature. The looming elections will influence relationships and cooperation throughout the session.
Conflicting COVID-19 standards. Legislators are more divided than ever about the pandemic and public health guidance related to it, and their views will shape day-to-day activities at the Capitol. Anyone who wants to participate in legislative meetings and proceedings will have to navigate a variety of rules set by committees and individual lawmakers.
Budget debates. Arizona’s economy withstood pandemic-related concerns, and state revenues are strong. Legislators will have a lot of money to spend, and their debates about how to use it will dominate the session. The budget negotiation process could be different this year because of an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that blocked non-budget policy changes from going into budget bills. Budget leaders will have to find the votes they need based on the financial policies they want to enact, not other policy priorities.
Bills. Legislators plan to introduce a lot of bills this year, and policy committees will face tough decisions and lengthy hearings as they try to advance priority bills within House and Senate deadlines.
In terms of what the Arizona legislature may debate, here are some of the top issues expected to dominate discussion at the Capitol this year include:
Authority and how it’s allocated. Lawmakers will continue their efforts to increase the legislature’s role in state emergencies, public health standards, election procedures, energy policy, and other hot topics.
Criminal justice reforms and whether they’re needed. This has been a high-profile topic of discussion at the Capitol for several years; with changes to the legislative membership, advocates on every side of these complex policies hope to enact big changes to a variety of criminal justice policies.
Education and the ways it’s funded and implemented. Legislators will debate changes to school board elections and procedures, whether classrooms should have cameras inside them, and how teachers should teach about things like race and communism. They’ll also consider school expenditure limits and whether to waive them or require schools to dramatically cut their spending.
Elections and how they’re operated, how voters can participate, and whether the state needs to make changes to the way election officers around the state do their jobs. These discussions will be fueled by ongoing disagreement between legislators about the 2020 election and its outcomes.
Healthcare and how Arizonans should receive it. Some legislators will seek to expand the medical care provided through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), and others will propose changes to the scope of practice for medical professionals.
Housing and whether the state should act to provide affordable housing options. This has been a focus at the Capitol for a while but rising housing costs and the pandemic’s impact on evictions will drive more discussion on the issue.
Public health and how it should guide the actions of Arizonans. Legislators will debate standards associated with COVID-19 but will also focus on what the government’s role should be in broader public health priorities – like vaping, immunizations, and mental health.
Taxes and who should pay them. The legislature passed a significant income tax cut last year, but it’s on hold while courts decide whether it will go before voters later this year. In the meantime, lawmakers will debate whether to reenact those income tax cuts, as well as changes to other taxes and state revenues.
Transportation and infrastructure and how important projects should be prioritized around the state. This includes highways and roads but also cybersecurity and broadband access.