Masks, emergency powers a prelude to Governor Ducey’s State of the State Address

Governor Doug Ducey prepares to unmask to deliver his State of the State address Monday from his office at the Capitol./Arizona Capitol TV

By Ryan Randazzo / The Arizona Republic

The rift in the Republican party regarding the pandemic response became apparent quickly in the Senate on Monday after the niceties of being sworn in and introducing guests concluded.

Related: Arizona Legislature opens on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021 /43 PHOTOS

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, opposed passing rules on procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic because the rules allow lawmakers to vote remotely from their offices.

“This is a sacred institution what we have here, the Legislature. And I care about the integrity of the vote here at the Legislature,” she said.

She added that she didn’t feel she had enough opportunity to chime in on the rules. She said she had the same concerns with the procedure rules as she has with the emergency declaration made last year regarding the pandemic in the state.

“When does it end?” she said.

She said many people such as truck drivers and waiters can’t teleconference to their jobs.

She called for a roll-call vote on the procedures.

Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, offered a substitute motion to not adopt some portions of the pandemic protocols that confused Ugenti-Rita and others opposed to the measures. The two pulled their masks to their chins to try and sort things out on the floor.

Fann reminded Livingston about the mask and he replaced it. A Democrat senator moments later asked Fann to remind Ugenti-Rita about her mask and Ugenti-Rita adjusted it.

Fann also reminded members of the timing with the governor’s State of the State speech planned for 2 p.m. as the debate delayed that event. The governor issued a notice as 2 p.m. approached noting that his presentation would not take place until the chambers concluded their business.

The debate over remote voting showed how challenging procedures might be this session with some lawmakers participating remotely from their office.

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, was called upon first to vote. She was participating from her office because she refuses to wear a mask as required on the floor. Her audio was substantially louder than previous remarks she made. Then moments later when she spoke again she was inaudible, at least in the gallery.

Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, was then asked to vote but she asked to wait because she could not see the voting results from her office. The rest of the members were on the floor.

Before the vote, Fann explained to the members that the remote voting procedures were developed because of the narrow divide among Republicans and Democrats that would have “pretty much shut us down” with regard to voting on controversial issues if any members were out sick or quarantining.

Livingston and Ugenti-Rita only got seven other Republicans to vote with them in opposition to the remote-voting rule, so the issue failed.

Livingston and Ugenti-Rita wanted to continue to try repealing portions of the rules but Democrat Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale used a procedural move to force a vote on the rule package, which passed, mercifully bringing the debate over procedures to a close.

Fann offered an apologetic tone when her procedural rules passed but with nine members opposed. Amid her closing remarks on the issue she had to remind Ugenti-Rita to pull up her mask.

“I don’t want anybody getting sick and going home and infecting their parents and their kids or anyone else.”

Senate president Karen Fann

Senate staff had prepared a short video showing a short biography of each Senate member that was intended to show “unity” and “camaraderie” but the film was not shown because the rules debate was holding up the governor’s presentation.

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