Tensions boil over at Legislature as Republicans restrict testimony from public, Democrats

Arizona Senate chamber/Pexels photo

By Andrew Oxford | Arizona Republic

Arizona lawmakers spent part of Wednesday morning debating a proposal that would undo the effects of a ballot measure voters approved last year to fund education.

One topic they were not allowed to speak about during that debate: the ballot measure itself.

That’s because Republican legislators on the state House Ways and Means Committee cut off any discussion of Proposition 208, saying it was not included in the bill they were debating even as it would directly affect the ballot measure voters approved just a few months ago.

In addition to forcing lawmakers to verbally dance around the subject at the heart of the bill, chairperson Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, also cut off public comment altogether with some speakers still waiting to give their testimony.

Forcing a vote, the committee advanced Senate Bill 1783 on a party-line split with Republicans in favor.

In another hearing, this one on election legislation, a committee chair shut down public comment and also tried to vote on behalf of another legislatorafter trying to silence her.

The open display of raw tensions was remarkable even by the standards of a state Legislature where committee chairs routinely hector members of the public and their colleagues.

A heated debate, verbal gymnastics

State Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler

In the debate over Senate Bill 1783, Democrats argued the measure is a clear effort to gut Proposition 208. Republicans opposed that initiative but it passed with about 52% of the vote last year. The ballot measure created a new surcharge on the personal income taxes paid by higher earners and directed the money to public education.

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