As the Arizona legislature convenes for the 2021 regular session, be prepared for close votes and disagreements within and between Arizona’s political parties.
While many predicted that Arizona Democrats would grab some power at the state Capitol in the 2020 election, voters elected the narrowest possible Republican majority in the House (31-29) and Senate (16-14). As a result, Republicans will have to secure the support of their entire caucus or earn Democratic support to pass legislation. This gives every legislator great bargaining power for every vote, especially for high-profile priorities like a state budget.
We will also have a relatively experienced legislature this session. While 16% of the legislature is technically newly elected, some of the new faces are familiar: Two House members are returning to the Capitol after a short break. Another 9% of the legislature moved from one chamber to another.
Issues on the Horizon
The abrupt end to last session and the battle lines drawn during the 2020 election over topics like public health and election security will set the stage for strong divides on many policy decisions this legislative session.
Some Republicans believe that the governor’s ability to declare state emergencies should be limited. Instead, state law should give the legislature a more active role in long-term emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. Most Democrats do not agree, and Governor Ducey won’t be keen on signing legislation that limits his authority.
Election procedures, which have been in the news for months, are also expected to draw attention. National and state debates about mail-in voting, polling machines, and many other important election logistics will bring divisive policy discussions in Arizona. Even the state’s top prosecutor is siding with Republican legislators in their legal bid to demand access to election materials from Maricopa County.
Advocates on every side of the complex criminal justice policies hope this is the year the legislature enacts changes, especially since the House now has a committee entirely dedicated to criminal justice reform. We expect legislators to introduce changes to sentencing and court procedures, as well as police oversight. The legislature is also expected to debate education policies as schools navigate education options during the pandemic, like school safety, vaccine requirements, and suicide prevention.
Finally, it’s important to remember that Governor Ducey only has 2 more legislative sessions to advance his agenda. We will learn more in next week’s State of the State Address on what these priorities will be.
Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Arizona’s economy remains strong. State leaders will have an estimated $1.4 billion budget surplus as they put together next year’s budget, though much of that funding is for one-time investments rather than ongoing programs. Legislators will have to decide how to allocate the resources between a long list of backlogged policy and state agency priorities that were put on hold when the pandemic closed last session early.
Before anyone gets too excited, there are a few budget asks that rank high on the list of priorities. Transportation and infrastructure requests from every part of the state, including state prisons, parks and schools, are at the top of the list. Funding for technology upgrades and cybersecurity programs have also become increasingly important with the shift to telecommuting and online services. Finally, resources for public health programs will remain front and center.
Legislators may also propose changes that align with their views: Some will seek more funding for small businesses, while others will prioritize removing regulation for some businesses and professions.
Don’t Cancel Your Internet Service
The pandemic that shut the legislature last year continues. While most legislators agree on basic protocols to protect public health, some disagree. As a result, House and Senate leaders and staff are prepared to implement new ways for legislators to participate and vote remotely if they feel unsafe.
I’d love to hear which of these areas you’re most interested in. Are there any other issues on which you’re keeping tabs? Drop me a note anytime.