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Days before the deadline for Arizona lawmakers to pass a budget, State Representative Joseph Chaplik said he would decline to vote for a GOP-brokered spending plan unless he get something in return.
“I said I wouldn’t sign the education budget if we didn’t have control over the masks,” the Scottsdale Republican told Tory radio host Garret Lewis in June.
Chaplik was referring to mask warrants – the requirements for students, staff and visitors to Arizona public schools to wear face coverings to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Republicans like Chaplik demanded that the budget include a policy prohibiting public schools in the state from issuing such warrants.
The controversial ban on mask warrants is now expected to go into effect on September 29, after Chaplik and other Republicans won their case.
But this is where attorney Roopali Desai says lawmakers got it wrong.
“Nothing in common with the budget”
In August, Desai filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Arizona Teachers Union, school officials, civic groups and others arguing that a handful of policies passed under the budget are unconstitutional. This includes rules for the conduct of elections, regulations on what teachers can and cannot talk about in their classrooms, and prohibiting local principals from requiring students and staff to wear. masks.
What all of these policies have in common, Desai says, is that they have nothing in common with the budget.
“There is no budget provision for a ban on COVID-19 mitigation policies“She said.” It’s just a substantive policy that was put in place here because … some lawmakers insisted it be there if someone wanted them to vote on a budget. “
The city of Phoenix then filed a separate complaint making the same argument. City attorneys say a policy designed to undermine civilian oversight of the Phoenix Police Department is unconstitutional.
It is not the substance of the laws that is at issue, Desai says. That’s how Republican lawmakers approved them.
Chaplike, and other Republicans, leveraged their budget votes for something in return. It’s a common tactic in many states, even in Congress, called horse trading.
When lawmakers negotiate a budget, there are usually a dozen bills that detail the spending plan. One is known as the “food bill” – this is a list of all of the government’s revenue allocations. Other budget bills serve as power bill instruction manuals – they tell state agencies and local governments how to spend the money in the budget.
When there is nothing that connects a policy in budget bills to state spending plans, it’s a violation of the Arizona Constitution, Desai says.
There is a constitutional rule that a bill can only deal with one thing, or one subject, at a time. Regarding the budget, Desai says the topic is supposed to be how to spend taxpayer money.
Most states have similar rules in their constitutions requiring bills to stick to one topic at a time, and some, like Arizona, extend those rules to the budget, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. .
Teachers, and others, fight back
Rocio Hernandez / KJZZ
The horse trade may be a part of politics, but Republicans this year have gone too far, according to Beth Lewis, mother, teacher and executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona.
“In the end, those lawmakers and the vested interests that came up with these, you know, sorts of projects or preferred positions, were forced to get other people to vote on the budget,” he says. she. “And that’s just not the way the legislative process should work.”
Republican Senate Speaker Karen Fann spoke publicly about the budget last month, blaming her party’s declining number on Capitol Hill for a budget rich in important policy news.
Republicans, who have held a legislative majority in both chambers for nearly three decades, are not giving Democrats a table seat on the budget. This year the Republican majority was so slim that to pass a budget along party lines, all 31 House Republicans and 16 Senate Republicans had to vote for.
“Everyone knew they were either number 16 or number 31, which created a challenge… We ended up putting a policy in the budget that not everyone necessarily agreed with. But to move this budget forward, that’s what we had to do, “Fann said.” It wasn’t fun, “she added.
Lewis says lawmakers can and should do better.
“It’s definitely politics,” Lewis says. “But with the one subject rule with finance bills, we should really be talking about appropriations, and I think that’s what the courts are going to decide, right? impose all these other laws when lawmakers are supposed to talk about how to finance our state budget? ”
There are a number of laws at play in the two complaints against Arizona. These laws are expected to come into force on September 29. In the separate trials, Desai and City of Phoenix attorneys called on the court to stop the state from enforcing laws they shouldn’t have passed as part of the budget.
A move in their favor could also send a message to Republicans that politics as usual when it comes to budget negotiations must change.
The budget, Desai says, should stick to the budget.
“It’s in our Constitution,” she said. “We have moved away from this process, we need the courts to set these limits. And then, hopefully, in the future, if we are successful in this case, the legislature will not engage in this kind of shenanigans. . “