On Thursday, June 11, the Greater Phoenix Chamber hosted its annual Legislative Wrap-Up to learn about the Second Regular Session of Arizona’s 54th Legislature.
Representatives from the Chamber’s Public Affairs team and legislative leaders spoke to attendees about the session’s activities and explored how lawmakers responded to the global pandemic’s impact on Arizona’s economy.
Legislative leaders, including Senate President Karen Fann, Senator David Bradley, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, and Representative Charlene Fernandez, participated in a panel discussion during the virtual event.
“It’s just a whole new world,” said Bowers.
The session was anything but traditional. With the unexpected challenge of a global pandemic, lawmakers and citizens had to quickly readjust legislative priorities.
Specifically, lawmakers took the unusual step of passing a state budget in March. The FY21 ‘skinny’ budget provided funds to agencies at FY20 levels, with the exception of one-time funding additions to support the state during this critical time.
“First of all, we were very blessed and lucky because we started working on the budget last September, and I think that was a huge advantage for us,” said Fann. “We had a handle on numbers. We had a handle on what we needed.”
The adopted package included an additional $50M to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. The budget added resources for caseload and inflation growth to education and health care safety net programs.
“The budget is such a big document, and what people don’t always appreciate is that it’s a philosophical document. Making those decisions was hard. I think Karen [Fann] did a good job of getting all of the necessities into the skinny budget. We were able to forge forward with that compromise,” said Bradley. “The uniqueness of this situation compounded the difficulty of making those decisions so quickly.”
The abbreviated budget was passed with bipartisan support to ensure agencies stay open, and the state didn’t overspend revenues.
“Whenever we come together as Republicans and Democrats at the state legislature, good comes out of it,” Fernandez said.
In addition to discussing the budget and COVID-19 related measures, the panel reviewed the accomplishments of this legislative session.
Key issues and success for the Chamber’s members and the business community at large include:
- Utility and Energy Choice: This vital legislation sponsored by Senate President Fann and House Speaker Bowers was designed to protect balanced energy solutions in Arizona for consumers and businesses. The Chamber applauds the efforts of legislators on both sides of the aisle who worked to protect access to natural gas for Arizonans.
- Hospital Assessment: This priority bill brought needed revenue into the Arizona hospital system by maximizing the use of federal funds through AHCCCS. These funds are needed more than ever during the current pandemic to provide valuable resources for our health care providers.
- School Flexibility: This legislation aided in establishing emergency measures for schools related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill outlined several key directions for schools to administer, given the status of the disease. All of the provisions in the bill were pivotal to supporting schools, while leaders navigated through this unique crisis.
- Budget: The Chamber has always been a steadfast supporter of a structurally balanced budget that prioritizes areas of critical need, and this year was no different. The budget ensured state agencies and providers had budgetary certainty and guidance during the initial stages of the pandemic.
Looking ahead to future special sessions, and next year’s regular session, lawmakers are optimistic about their priorities being vetted and passed.