Steve Farley had a synopsis of the goings on at the legislature yesterday in his weekly e-mail to supporters. I was going to pull a couple of key paragraphs out of there and post them, but it quickly became an entry in the summarize Proust competition. I talked to Farley, and he is okay with me posting the whole darned thing. The emphasis on the money quote was added by me:
Howdy, Friends O’Farley…
The weather got weird last week, but the goings-on are even more surreal than snow in May here at the Legislature.
There is still no action on the budget, and some of us are wondering if the Speaker just intends to shut down the government, which is what will happen if we do not pass a balanced budget by midnight on June 30.
That would not be a pretty picture for anyone, and there is no need for it since the Governor has had a reasonable balanced budget proposal on the Speaker’s desk for many weeks now. But there is still no counterproposal from Republican leadership, or even a road map for how to get there. And he sent us home a day early for each of the last three weeks–days we could have spent getting the budget passed. No one seems to know how we are going to get out of here anytime soon.
While we try to figure out what’s in the Speaker’s mind, I spent the day over in the Senate trying to get a ban on driving while texting (DWT) amended onto another bill on the Senate floor. The process is still ongoing, albeit in recess as I write this at 4:30pm. It has been utterly astonishing the lengths to which the Senate Republican leadership has gone to try to avoid any floor vote on the issue. It would appear they want it killed, because it is a Democratic bill, but they don’t want to actually have to vote No on it because they are aware that 87% of the Arizona public want DWT banned.
Here’s a rundown on the hijinks so far–somewhat like a little trip to Wonderland…
Sen. Charlene Pesquiera (D-Oro Valley) agreed to run the amendment to HB2049 in Senate Committee of the Whole (COW). The bill was retained on two previous COWs because of problems with two other amendments, but finally was heard this morning at around 11:30am.
Debate opened auspiciously with the first of many parliamentary maneuverings when Senator Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) moved that the bill be retained on the calendar once again. That motion failed, so the bill moved forward.
Sen. Pesquiera spoke on behalf of the amendment, and then before a vote was taken, Sen. Gould moved the first of two substitute floor amendments — language that would completely replace the Pesquiera amendment and thus any language outlawing DWT.
His first effort in this regard would have replaced her amendment with wording identical to the current reckless driving statute already on the books. The only result of this would be to re-enact that law. He used this to make his point that reckless driving was already against the law, and just needed to be enforced in this case. He could not respond when it was pointed out that reckless driving is a class-2 misdemeanor, carrying penalties of up to 4 months in jail and $2000 in fines; well beyond the more appropriate $100-$250 fines proposed in the law to ban DWT. This amendment was then killed in an 11-12 vote.
He next offered a subsitute amendment to put people in jail for doing anything on a list of 13 different things while driving. The list included: changing the radio station, smoking, operating an MP3 player, and talking to passengers, among other things. He was parroting exactly the arguments aired last fall by Susan Bitter Smith, lobbyist for the telecommunications industry, that these other things are distracting, so why not ban them, too?
It was pointed out by several Senators that there is a big difference between talking to your passengers and using two hands and both eyes and your whole mind to type out text on a small electronic device. That is a logical place to draw the line, as 87% of Arizonans agree. It was also pointed out that Verizon and AT&T are now in support of our efforts to ban DWT. Gould’s 2nd substitute amendment also failed by a very loud voice vote.
After these failures, and the realization that the DWT provisions would likely pass, Sen. Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert, Senate Majority Leader) moved to retain the bill again. Sen. Debbie McCune Davis pointed out that motion was against the rules because the debate had already started. The COW Chair Jack Harper (R-Surprise) said she was wrong, but then the body voted to overrule his ruling 12-13 and debate continued.
Gould then offered a floor amendment to raise the fines for DWT to harsher levels to make the ban less palatable when it comes back to the House, but that amendment failed 9-14.
Finally we were back to debating the DWT amendment itself, and in the middle of that debate, Sen. Pam Gorman (R-Anthem) tried to offer an verbal floor amendment to the bill removing exceptions to the ban for first responders, among others.
The amendment was called out of order because it needed to be filed in writing with the Senate Secretary.
Debate continued further, but before a vote could be taken, Sen. Gorman moved that the COW “rise and report to report progress, then sit again”. This meant the proceedings would be stopped, but they would have to finish sometime later in the day before adjournment. There was some confusion on the floor on what Senators were voting on, so the motion passed in a voice vote before failing in a second vote 11-14. Unfortunately, the second vote was ruled out of order, so the voice vote carried and debate was stopped at around 12:30pm.
Mass confusion reigned, and the rules attorneys, Senators and parliamentarians clashed over what should and should not have been done. There was general agreement that this kind of backs-to-the-wall maneuvering on the part of leadership had not been seen in the Senate in recent memory–all to avoid an up-or-down vote on the floor.
It’s amazing that a simple little amendment to ban something as bad as driving while texting can cause so much frantic activity. It probably would have been a lot simpler had Rep. [Andy] Biggs heard the bill in the traditional manner in his House Transportation committee…
As of 2pm, we heard that the COW would continue at around 6:00pm, probably not coincidentally after the Bush event ends. Priorities, priorities.
UPDATE after resumption of COW: President Tim Bee (R-Green Valley) finally called the Senate to order at 7:15pm after their afternoon jaunt with the other President, and Sen. Verschoor opened it up with a motion to adjourn. As one of only three Republicans on the floor along with 10 of the 13 Democrats, the Aye votes were sparse, but President Bee called it for the Ayes until a Division was called, forcing a headcount. The motion lost, 3-10, and the Senate remained in session.
Pres. Bee said there was not a quorum, so he said the only motion in order was to adjourn. Much discussion ensued among all parties and rules attorneys and staff. I personally witnessed at least one Republican Senator enter the building just before the session started but who did not go onto the floor–there was a clear attempt by Republican leadership to keep their members off the floor and deny a quorum. Senator Gorman didn’t even show up to offer her verbal amendment–the pretext for the motion to suspend the COW in the first place.
Officially, were were still in COW, so the Democrats attempted to move to re-enter COW, but Bee responded by calling for an electronic roll call vote to establish whether a quorum was present. The count remained at 13, with 16 necessary for a quorum, but Sen. Cheuvront pointed out that a quorum was also necessary for a motion to adjourn. Sen. Burton-Cahill refused to push her button as present until being allowed to speak, but Bee refused to allow her to speak and instead called for a manual roll call in which each name was called.
At the conclusion of that call, Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia (D-Tucson) stood to make a motion to issue a Call to the Senate which would have required that DPS officials track down Senators and bring them to the floor until we had a quorum. Instead of recognizing him to speak, Senator Bee looked right at him, gaveled the Senate adjourned for lack of quorum, and left the chamber at 7:40.
This was pretty astonishing to witness, as it was completely illegal to do that, even as Senate President. Mr. Bee did not seem to care. Senate staffers confirmed they had not seen such a brazen disregard for Senate rules, and for basic rules of democratic process. President Tim Bee, faced with a legitimate outcome he didn’t like, gaveled shut public debate without a fair vote on a bill that is supported by 87% of Arizonans. And he did so without any rules on his side, just arbitrary power.
The issue is certainly not over. It is unclear how these breaches of the rules by the Senate President will be resolved, and when the COW will be re-started. Rules were clear that the COW needed to be started again before adjournment, and this adjournment was illegal. Will the Senate leadership simply use this
maneuver to quash any debate on any bill they don’t like if the majority of their body seem to support it? Will the COW start again tomorrow? If they are willing to go this far to stop a bill with this much support, what will happen when we finally have a budget proposal on the floor?
I’m afraid I don’t have any answers tonight, just some eyes opened a little wider than they were before. I’ll let you know what happens in my next report.
Thanks again for all your support as I serve you in the Legislature!
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Ranking Member, Government Committee
Ranking Member, Ways & Means Committee
By the way Steve, the Senate is the “upper chamber,” much more civilized and refined than you peasants in the house…