Triadvocates Navigator: January 8, 2021

January 08,2021 | TRIADVOCATES

January 8, 2021


State of the State

On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey will deliver a virtual State of the State address as he kicks off the new legislative session. While governors traditionally give the address each year to a joint legislature on the House floor, the Governor’s Office made the call earlier this week to go virtual amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We can file this one under the “unprecedented” category, as it’s the first time a governor has delivered the State of the State virtually—and the first time in recent memory that the address won’t take place in the legislative chambers. The speech will be broadcast live from Gov. Ducey’s office. Details have yet to be officially announced, but we expect it will start around 2 p.m., and will likely be streamed HERE.


Protocols for 2021 Legislative Session

Kicking off the 2021 Legislative Session in the midst of a global pandemic is no small task. Never before has the Capitol community been more anxious to learn the protocols that will guide how business is conducted. The Senate released its COVID-19 protocols in mid-December and, while official protocols for the House have yet to be released, they are expected to mirror the Senate. The new COVID protocols include:

  • Mandatory face masks and temperature checks will be required for everyone who enters the building—legislators, staff, and visitors
  • Social distancing must occur at all times inside the building; everyone should remain 6 feet apart (say goodbye to handshakes—they’re officially prohibited)
  • Capitol visitors will only be allowed to participate in committee hearings or attend pre-scheduled meetings with lawmakers or staff; visitors are prohibited from roaming or congregating around the building (no more gathering of lobbyists in…the lobby)
  • Anyone who tests positive, has a known COVID-19 exposure, or is sick is prohibited from entering the building until all symptoms are gone and/or certain quarantine precautions are followed
  • Legislative security will enforce the new protocols for everyone in the building
  • If testing becomes more available, staff and lawmakers will be “highly encouraged” to be tested at least once a week, and the Legislature will offer free onsite testing

As far as actual legislative work, it looks like session will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual participation. New rules in the Senate also require all committees to have an option for lawmakers and members of the public to virtually participate. So, while the buildings will technically be open, we can expect a significant amount of work to be conducted online. House Speaker Rusty Bowers recently shared in a public forum that things will be “clunky” and “slower” but that it will be a balanced attempt to maintain transparency and accessibility to the public while implementing safety protocols. Recently, Senate President Karen Fann warned that failing to comply with the rules could result in an early end of the session.


To access the full Senate COVID-19 protocols, click HERE.

"In these unprecedented times..."

The upcoming session will certainly be unique—and the reasons go far beyond just COVID. Of special interest is who will officially be voted in as Speaker of the House when the Chamber gavels to a start on Monday. Historically, both caucuses meet privately to select leadership immediately after the election. This is an unofficial vote and is not made official until a formal vote is taken after members are sworn in on opening day of the session. In the past, regardless of the personal preferences voiced during the private organizational caucus, members leave that meeting with a pledge to support the winner when the new legislative session convenes. Current House Speaker Rusty Bowers was the top pick among most of his colleagues during the organizational caucus meeting—but not all. Now, for the first time in recent memory, a couple of his fellow caucus members have publicly stated they will break with tradition and won’t be voting for Bowers on Monday. With only 31 Republican members in the chamber, losing even one vote puts the speakership in jeopardy. Stay tuned, as this could be an interesting arm-twisting weekend for the House GOP.


Phoenix City Council gearing up for March runoff

Quite literally the last thing anyone wants to think about right now is another election. Naturally, that means we’ve got another election ahead of us. On March 9, Phoenix residents in Districts 3 and 7 will vote for their City Council members. This runoff election is required because no candidates in either district received a majority of the votes (50% plus 1) in the November election. In District 3, incumbent Deb Stark faces challenger Nicole Garcia. In District 7, political newcomers Yassamin Ansari and Cinthia Estela are competing for the open seat being vacated by Michael Nowakowski. The candidate with the highest number of votes cast for each office in the runoff election will be elected and take office for a four-year term beginning April 19, 2021.

New agency leadership

Over the holidays, Gov. Ducey’s office announced new leadership at the agency responsible for state tax collection and administration. Rob Woods, currently a chief deputy director of the Arizona Department of Revenue, was named interim director of the agency. Carlton Woodruff, who had served as director of the agency since 2018, was let go, along with another chief deputy, Grant Nulle. The announcement of the leadership change came shortly after media reports that outside counsel representing the agency had taken a position against a lawsuit seeking to reverse passage of Proposition 208, the measure to increase state income tax rates on highest wage earners to increase funding for K-12 education. Former Director Woodruff disputed the characterization that the agency was taking a position on the lawsuit. The agency is responsible for interpretations of ambiguous tax law which can be politically controversial and challenging. Unclear is whether Interim Director Woods will be nominated to take over as director, subject to Senate confirmation, or whether the Governor’s Office will conduct a search for a new leader. Also unclear is the effect this decision has on the agency’s request to work on modernizing the technology infrastructure supporting the state’s tax administration.


Corporation Commission selects new chair

The Arizona Corporation Commission – the constitutional body responsible for regulating utilities, securities, and managing business registrations – swore in its new membership for the 2021-22 term. Lea Márquez Peterson, a Republican recently elected in her own right to the Commission, was elected Chair in a 3-2 vote. She earned support from the two Democratic commissioners, and opposition from her fellow Republicans. Peterson is considered a swing vote on key issues anticipated to come before the Commission, including revision of the renewable energy standard, as well as proposals to deregulate electric utility services.

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