Arizona lawmakers push final bills as adjournment looms

The Arizona Legislature was moving Thursday night to vote on a flurry of bills lawmakers need to clear off their desks so they can adjourn for the year.

Waiting in the wings for Friday’s expected last day of the session was one of the most contentious bills of the year, a massive expansion of the state’s private school voucher system that passed the House on Wednesday. It moved through a Senate committee Thursday night.

MORE: Arizona House Republicans back universal school voucher expansion

Also on tap is a massive new water bill Gov. Doug Ducey called for early this year that is designed to help the state pay for new water sources.

The push to move most of the final bills of the year led to a series of battles Thursday evening, including an effort by majority Republicans to ban cities and towns from charging a tax on rented homes and apartments that fell one vote short in the Senate, and another on a big tax credit for film production that passed the House after an acrimonious debate that got personal.

MORE: Senate panel advances last minute bills on Arizona initiatives, schools

Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Travis Grantham called the film credit bill "grossly unconstitutional" and said he was falsely accused by bill sponsor Sen. David Gowan of reneging on a deal.

"It’s my understanding that the Senate currently won’t even do business unless this bill gets put forward because of the sponsor and his ability to hold our entire chamber, and his, hostage," Grantham said.

Gowan’s bill provides tax credits that starts at $75 million in 2023, go to $100 million the following year and top out at $125 million in 2025 and subsequent years. One film can only receive $25 million.

The measure drew strong bipartisan backing though, and eventually passed on a 39-18 vote. It was just revived Wednesday and passed the Senate early Thursday morning. Backers said the film industry brings good-paying jobs and helps boost Arizona’s national standing.

The rental tax bill was another that was revived this week, with Republicans calling it an unfair tax that hurt lower-income Arizonans.

MORE: Arizona House approves ban on city home, apartment rental taxes

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns argued that cities would have to either raise taxes elsewhere or cut services. The tax is typically about 2%.

The group said 71 of Arizona’s 91 cities would lose funding needed to pay for police, fire and other services, while cutting the tax would give little help for people who have seen their lease payments skyrocket.

But Republicans who revived the measure after it appeared in March and then languished said rental taxes need to be repealed.

"The tax needs to go away," GOP Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City said. "It’s about time to give instant relief to the lowest, lowest income people."

That’s not the case. Republican Rep. Shawnna Bolick’s bill would not have taken effect until Oct. 1. 2024. She said it was needed because of soaring rents.

The Legislature also approved several election-related bills, including measures allowing more election observers and allowing more hand counts of ballots and making it easier to cancel voter registrations.