Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Games Senators Play

Perhaps they were intoxicated by the nearness of King...errr...President George "No Steenkin' Rules Apply To Me" Bush, but the Republican leadership of the Arizona State Senate spent Wednesday feeling their "debate suppression" oats.

The following details of the Senate floor activity are courtesy Rep. Steve Farley (D-LD28). He sends out weekly "Farley Reports From Phoenix". Most readers, however, refer to them as "Farley-grams" and we look forward to each issue's arrival in our inboxes. I strongly recommend signing up for it here.

The background info about the bills mentioned in today's post is available on the lege's website.

Note: 'COW' refers to "Committee of the Whole", a session of the Senate where amendments are allowed and actual debate can take place. During a regular session, no amendments are allowed and debate consists of members "rising to explain" their votes.

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled post... :)

Turns out that the Senate was supposed to consider an amendment to HB2049 that would ban texting while driving (TWD).

The amendment was authored by Rep. Farley, a Democrat, and was brought forward in the Senate by Sen. Charlene Pesquiera of Oro Valley, another Democrat. However, while this amendment (and HB2396, Farley's original attempt to ban texting while driving) has overwhelming support among the state's voters and rare bipartisan support in the lege, the leadership of the Senate, including Senate President Tim Bee, is loathe to give it an open and fair hearing.

The original bill was killed early in the legislative session when Rep. Andy Biggs (R - LD22), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, refused to allow it to be heard in his committee. It was sponsored by a Democrat, after all.

On Tuesday, the Senate leadership used every trick in the book, and a few that aren't in any book that the Senate's members, staffers, or lawyers know about, to block Farley's amendment from passage.

First up was Sen. Ron Gould and his attempt to block the amendment from being heard, by moving to have the bill "retained on the calendar". When that failed, he began offering substitute amendments to the amendment.

After those all failed, Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert) moved again to have the bill retained on the calendar, a move that was against the rules of the Senate, as debate on the bill had already started. The chair of the COW session, and my favorite senator, Jack Harper (R-Surprise!) ruled that Verschoor's motion was in order. The senate voted to overturn his ruling.

After more failed attempts to amend the amendment, Sen. Pam Gorman moved to have the COW session rise, postponing further debate until later in the day. After some confusion (and the disregarding of a vote that didn't fit the desires of the Senate leadership), the Senate did rise from its COW session.

At that point, most of the Senate's Republican caucus bugged out to go attend the McCain fundraiser/public appearance with Bush at a defense contractor in Mesa.

More than five hours later, the Senate reconvened, but before any action could be taken, Thayer Verschoor moved to have the Senate adjourn. While Tim Bee tried to call the voice vote on that motion as "ayes have it" but there were only 3 Republicans in the chamber. A headcount was taken, and the motion failed 3 - 10.

At that point, things really started getting out of hand.

Next up, Bee said that with 13 votes cast on the adjournment motion, a quorum wasn't present (the Senate cannot conduct business unless a quorum, or a majority of members, is present - 16 is that magic number).

Bee tried to conduct an electronic roll call (senators push a button on their desks indicating their presence), but ran into problems with that when Sen. Meg Burton-Cahill (D-Tempe) refused to press her button unless Bee allowed her to speak. Bee then switched to a manual roll call where each Senator's name was called out and they had to respond to indicate their presence.

After that, Senate Minority Leader Jorge Luis Garcia of Tucson tried to move for a "Call to the Senate" which would have had DPS officers out tracking down the wayward (and mostly Republican) legislators.

Bee looked directly at him and then gaveled the session to adjournment at 7:40 p.m.

And so ended a breathtaking day marked by Tim Bee's shameless abuse of his power as Senate President to prevent passage of a bill that he doesn't like.

The actual status of the bill, amendment, and the COW session is unclear, as the Senate actually had to re-enter it's COW session for the motion to adjourn to be a legal one, and they never actually re-entered COW.

Rep. Farley promises that this isn't the end of the effort to ban texting while driving, so stay tuned.

Two comments -

1. If they put as much effort into passing a budget as they did into killing the TWD amendment, a balanced budget would have passed weeks ago, the lege would already be adjourned for the year, and this amendment never would have come up for consideration. All of today's arm- and rule-twisting would have been unnecessary.

2. Does anyone else think that Bee really, REALLY screwed up when he decided that he shouldn't have resigned from the State Senate to run for Gabrielle Giffords' seat in Congress? Instead of being home in Tucson meeting constituents and raising money (and 'tsk-tsking' at the antics of the lege), he's now stuck in a partisan quagmire of his own making.

And partisan quagmires aren't the best place to find support from Independent voters, support he will need to unseat the popular Giffords.

AZCentral.com coverage here.

Eventually, the video of the COW session will be available on the lege's website here; however, when that will be is anyone's guess.


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