Ariz. lawmakers struggle to stay on track

State Senate president calls bills ‘esoteric’ and ‘born of passion’

PHOENIX – One Republican proposal would ban state enforcement of federal gun laws.

Another would require that hospitals check the citizenship of anyone treated in an emergency room.

Still another would call for students to pledge loyalty oaths to the Constitution before high school graduation.

It’s early on in the Arizona legislative session, but so far the proposals described by one top Republican as “esoteric” and criticized by Democrats as unconstitutional have dominated the headlines – despite promises from GOP leaders to focus on top-tier issues such as balancing the state budget and improving education.

It comes as Republicans nationally try to rebrand the party, highlighted by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal calling on his GOP colleagues to “stop being the stupid party” and focus on issues that matter to more Americans.

In Arizona, bills like those being pushed early this session often make headlines but often don’t get far in the legislative process.

Together with proposals that would block a plan championed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the measures from some Republicans have prompted criticism that they aren’t focused on important issues. Republicans hold majorities in both chambers, and Democrats say their rivals are more interested in running headfirst into confrontations with the federal government and pushing their conservative agenda.

It remains to be seen how much time lawmakers will devote toward such plans.

“You’re always going to have members that introduce legislation that is very partisan, very divisive, very polarizing,” said Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo. “The question is: Will they, the president and the speaker, let these bills move through the process?”

Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin are tasked with determining whether proposals advance to a full legislative debate. Both said before the session they didn’t expect to spend much time on hot-button topic bills like immigration that had dominated the Legislature in recent years.

Biggs said Monday he would assign each bill introduced in his chamber to a committee, where the measures could die or change significantly before reaching his desk, at which point he could decide either to spike a plan or bring it to the full Senate for consideration.

He said he didn’t think any of the bills would become distractions, saying that he expects such measures from a citizen legislature that represents views of constituents in their districts.

“I wouldn’t call them fringe bills. I would call them esoteric bills,” he said with a slight smile. “I would call them bills born of passion.”