Similar to statehouses throughout the nation, Arizona's 2020 Legislative Session was cut short by the global COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in an abrupt end in mid-March. Many bills failed to progress beyond their chamber of origin before the legislature entered a prolonged recess, ultimately reconvening to pass a skinny budget and then adjourning sine die in mid-May. Meanwhile, the State braced for unprecedented and unknown challenges. There were calls by a vocal minority of Republican legislators to return to a special session; however, Governor Ducey opted not to do so.
With the closing of the legislative session, legislators quickly pivoted to a hotly contested election cycle, while the pandemic crises continued to rage through the nation with Arizona in the eye of the storm. Arizona’s political climate continues to be as polarized as it has ever been and turmoil and political tension over the outcome of the presidential election and the handling of COVID-19 continues to divide Republicans in this state and throughout the country.
It was widely predicted that one or both of Arizona's legislative chambers would flip to Democratic control. That did not happen, surprising many Democratic and Republican political strategists alike. Arizona retained its Republican state government trifecta—meaning that Republicans continue to simultaneously hold the Governor’s office and have majorities in both the Arizona Senate and House. With the state on the cusp of redistricting, it is impossible to predict what changes in leadership and control the 2022 election cycle will bring.
The 2021 Arizona Legislative Session begins on January 11, 2021.
Arizona’s bicameral legislature is comprised of 90 legislators, 30 in the Arizona Senate (the upper house) and 60 in the Arizona House of Representatives (the lower house). Each legislator serves a two-year term and may only serve a total of four consecutive terms in each house (i.e., 8 years). After reaching a term limit, a legislator may seek election in the opposite house immediately, or in the same house after a two-year break.
Arizona’s legislators represent 30 distinct legislative districts. Each district elects one senator and two representatives. This combining of upper and lower house districts into a unified constituency is relatively rare and only exists in six other states in the U.S.
Until 1950, the legislature met two times per year in two separate legislative sessions. Currently, the legislature meets only once per year in a single legislative session that—per the Arizona Constitution—starts on the second Monday of January of each year. The Governor may also call special sessions of the legislature.
Republicans lost one seat in the Senate, but they retained control of the chamber through a 16-14 split. The last two legislative sessions, the Republicans held onto a 17-13 majority. Democrats have not controlled this chamber since 1992.
The Chamber is expected to be noticeably more Conservative, as the Republican Caucus lost two moderate swing votes in Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter, who lost her primary to more conservative incumbent Nancy Barto. Democrat legislative candidates significantly underperformed in what many expected to be a Democratic wave.
Senate Majority Leadership
Sen. Karen Fann, LD1
Sen. Rick Gray, LD21
Sen. Sonny Borrelli, LD5
Sen. Vince Leach, LD11
President Pro Tempore
Senate Minority Leadership
Sen. Rebecca Rios, LD27
Sen. Lupe Contreras, LD19
Assistant Minority Leader
Sen. Martin Quezada, LD29
Sen. Victoria Steele, LD9
Republicans will continue to hold a one-vote majority in the House with a 31-29 split, as was the divide during the last two sessions. This continues to make it the most closely divided House since 1966. It also means that Republicans, as in the Senate, cannot afford to lose a single vote on partisan legislation. This may lead to more compromise and coalition building.
House Majority Leadership
Rep. Russell "Rusty" Bowers, LD25
Speaker of the House
Rep. Ben Toma, LD22
Rep. Leo Biasiucci, LD5
Rep. Travis W. Grantham, LD12
Speaker Pro Tempore
House Minority Leadership
Rep. Reginald Bolding, Jr., LD27
Rep. Jennifer Longdon, LD24
Assistant Minority Leader
Rep. Domingo DeGrazia, LD10
While the Governor’s Office remains in Republican control, Governor Ducey has conveyed clear signals that he understands the need to take a more bipartisan approach in this political climate and has demonstrated his political will to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election have created tension between the Governor and some of the Republican legislators. It is anticipated that legislation will be introduced in the 2021 session to address both the pandemic and executive power. Indeed, one Senator has already prefiled a proposed concurrent resolution that would end Governor Ducey's declared state of emergency and terminate his ongoing, pandemic-related executive orders.
Needless to say, we can expect continued tension between the Governor and the Legislature during the 2021 session.
We are living through a politically divisive period that has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Public tension and disagreement within the majority caucus has been on display throughout the interim. Between political polarization, disagreements over the handling of the pandemic, and rising COVID numbers, it is hard to predict what the upcoming session will bring.
The Senate and House have announced their COVID-19 safety guidelines for the upcoming session. The guidelines are available in the "Key Information" below. The Senate plan requires anyone entering the Senate to wear a mask and have their temperature checked at the door before entering the building. The House plan requires masks where social distancing cannot be maintained. It is unclear how these rules will be enforced. At least one Senator has publicly pledged to defy the mask rule. Senate President Karen Fann has issued a public warning that failure adhere to mask rules could lead to an early end of session. Several Democratic legislators have publicly stated that the plan does not go far enough, citing a lack of detail regarding how people in the buildings will be informed if they have been exposed, among other things. Both sets of guidelines are subject to change.
There appears to be no formal plan to utilize technology for virtual meetings and public participation. Interim committee hearings, which have largely been virtual, demonstrated that the legislature does have the capacity to do at least some of its work remotely. Whether the majority leadership in both chambers ultimately decides to utilize technology remains to be seen but appears unlikely as of this writing.
While we do not know how many bills will ultimately be introduced, Legislators have started to prefile bills for processing. Of the 1,607 bills introduced last session, only 90 of them were signed into law by Arizona Governor Ducey. In the last 10 years, an average of over 300 bills per year became law. Last session's mere 6% passage rate is a reflection of the pandemic’s interruption of session in mid-March. A similar disruption this session is possible, if not likely. With only slim Republican majorities in both chambers, one or two sick legislators could significantly disrupt session and potentially lead to an early sine die.
—SENATE & HOUSE—
Monday, January 11, 2021
House 7-bill Introduction Limit:
5:00 pm on January 14, 2021
Senate Bill Request Deadline:
January 19, 2021 (subject to extension by the Speaker of the House
per Legislative Council Rule 28)
Senate Bill Intro Set Preparation Deadline:
5:00 pm on January 25, 2021
Senate Bill Introduction Deadline:
5:00 pm on February 1, 2021
House Bill Request Deadline:
5:00 pm on February 5, 2021 (subject to extension by the Speaker of the House
per Legislative Council Rule 28)
House Bill Introduction Deadline:
5:00 pm on February 8, 2021
Last Day to Hear Senate Bills in Senate Committees and House Bills in House Committees:
February 19, 2021
Cross Over Floor Week:
February 22, 2021
Last Day to Hear Senate Bills in House Committees and House Bills in Senate Committees:
March 26, 2021
100th Day of 1st Regular Session:
April 20, 2021