State Legislature's leaders meeting to decide fate of session

Republicans who lead the Arizona Legislature are meeting to consider drastic steps that could include shutting down the 2020 session early because of widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

House and Senate leaders are considering a variety of options. They include a temporary shutdown or passing a basic “baseline” budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and adjourning until later in the year. Majority Leader Warren Peterson told The Associated Press on Saturday that those options and more are possible.

“I think we’ll talk about all of those things,” Peterson said. “One path forward is you just pass basically a baseline budget. A baseline budget would allow you to get the budget out, make sure that the state runs as it should and then we can see how really what I would say the panic of the coronavirus has affected the economy.”

“And once we’re able to assess that, we can come back,” he said.

Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann met at mid-morning, but no decisions have been announced, House GOP Majority spokesman Andrew Wilder said.

Forcing the hand of leaders was the decision by two Republican senators not to return to the Capitol this week to avoid potential virus exposure. The GOP holds a 17-13 majority in the Senate, so it needs at least one of them to pass bills that lack Democratic support. Any budget that includes tax cuts fits that bill. In the House, the GOP holds a 31-29 majority, so one missing Republican puts the brakes on legislation with no Democratic backing.

Republican Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer said they believe the Capitol needs to shut down to stop any virus spread. A Democratic House member, Dr. Amish Shah, announced he would not return because of his potential exposure as an emergency room physician. He said he hope to participate by phone or video when possible.

Sen. Sean Bowie, a Democrat, called for the session to be suspended in the interest of public health.

“As you know, we have hundreds of people here at the Capitol every day, and I think it behooves us to at least suspend the session for now so we can be at home, we can practice social distance and make sure that everything is safe her at the Capitol.” he said in a video posted to Twitter Monday.

House and Senate leaders have banned the public from proceedings.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

Arizona had tallied 18 confirmed cases of the new virus as of Monday morning, but no deaths.

Gov. Doug Ducey and state schools chief Kathy Hoffman on Sunday ordered all public K-12 schools closed, meaning 1.1 million children are now sitting at home or in alternative care situations.

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