State budget stalls in Senate over child sexual assault survivors

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On Friday, the Arizona House approved the state budget package after two straight days of pulling all-nighters. But “just a few hours after saying she was ‘bound and determined’ to pass a budget Friday night, Senate President Karen Fann sent senators home for the night without voting on an $11.8 billion spending plan.” House passes budget package, Senate goes home (Capitol Times):

It’s an unusual move for the Legislature, where the Senate and House typically move in lockstep on budget bills. And it highlights the difficulty Senate GOP leaders have faced in recent weeks as several rank-and-file members publicly pledged that they would vote against a budget unless leaders met their demands.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, is leading a group of Republican senators demanding a different version of a tax plan than the one included in the budget deal GOP leaders reached with Gov. Doug Ducey a week ago. Mesnard repeated Friday night that he will vote against the budget unless he gets that tax plan.

Meanwhile, Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, vowed to stand united against the budget until the Legislature votes on Boyer’s plan to give sexual assault survivors more time to sue their abusers. With no deal Friday night, Boyer said he was surprised Fann would try to push a budget through.

“I think it’s fruitless, but I’ve been proven wrong before,” he said.

Fann, after allowing senators to go home for the night, tweeted that “the Senate will not pass bad policy in exchange for budget votes.”

The Senate debated two budget-related bills — one that funds human services and one that would allocate $2.5 million to a center designed to discourage abortions. Neither received a vote.

Meanwhile the House powered through votes on the budget package early Saturday morning, sending 11 budget-related bills over to the Senate.

Another day, another fail on Saturday. Senate President Karen Fann emerged from her office shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday to end the day. Senate stalls on budget again (Capitol Times):

Senator Karen Fann, R-Prescott, could pass an $11.8 billion spending plan — perhaps even with votes from Democrats — if she allows a vote on a bill that would give survivors of childhood sexual abuse more opportunities to sue their assailants.

Instead, Fann emerged from her office shortly before 6 p.m. Saturday to end the day and apologize to a group of red-shirted teachers, many of whom had spent their first day of summer vacation watching a mostly-empty Senate floor.

“We’re sorry we couldn’t get more done today,” Fann said. “We just could not get negotiations to a point where we had enough votes to get the budget.”

The budget deal passed the House on a party-line vote early Saturday morning, but it won’t go anywhere in the Senate until Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, and Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, get a chance to extend the statute of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers and insitutions, such as churches or youth organizations, that tried to cover up abuse.

That’s something Fann and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, won’t allow. Both described it as “bad policy” Saturday morning, and Farnsworth added that it would make victims out of people who are falsely accused of sexual abuse.

Arizona gives survivors of childhood sexual abuse until age 20 to sue their abusers. Survivors and advocates say that’s far too little, because many victims don’t come forward about abuse until middle age. Boyer has pushed various plans this session to extend that period, and all of them have included some window in which older victims can sue their abusers.

He and Carter made a final offer Friday: give survivors until the end of the year to sue, with the understanding that a commission would be working in the meantime to come up with a better long-term solution.

Farnsworth responded with his own offer: victims could have until May 31 to sue. Even assuming that bill could pass both the House and Senate and be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey before the end of the month, it would still give survivors just a few days to find attorneys, gather evidence and file lawsuits.

“To say that’s laughable, I mean, I don’t even know where to begin,” Boyer said.

Farnsworth resolutely opposes any kind of window because the burden of proof is lower in civil courts than in criminal. There is no statute of limitations on criminal charges for violent sexual assault or sexual abuse of a child 15 or younger, and victims can file civil suits after a criminal conviction.

“They have an avenue,” Farnsworth said. “The avenue is to go through the criminal courts. On the civil side, you cannot open it up.”

Farnsworth said he has opposed Boyer’s bill because as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he’s a “gatekeeper.” When asked why he and Fann wouldn’t just allow the proposal to come to the floor for a vote and fail as bad policy, he brushed off the question.

“That’s a silly question,” Farnsworth said. “I’m not going to answer it.”

LD 10 State Senator David Bradley

In the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim two-vote majority, losing more than one GOP senator means leaders have to accept defeat or negotiate with Democrats. Fann said she has been talking with Senate Minority Leader David Bradley and added Democratic priorities to the budget — the bills that passed the House Saturday morning included $5 million in additional spending for school counselors and the Housing Trust Fund.

“We’ve added a lot now, but so far, apparently it’s not enough,” Fann said.

Sen. Sean Bowie, a Phoenix Democrat said he saw a path to Democratic votes for the budget, but that Republican leaders first had to deal with the statute of limitations.

Bradley, D-Tucson, said his negotiations with Fann hit a sticking point when she said they needed the House in session to discuss amendments. And he said the linear way to proceed is to vote on the statute of limitations bill first, because Democrats promised to support Carter and Boyer after the two turned to the minority caucus for help.

Carter’s other priorities, which include more funding for graduate medical education, gifted education and additional assistance to school districts, align with what Democrats in the Senate want, Bradley said. And Boyer, a high school teacher, previously said he found a lot to like in the Democratic budget proposal.

“We all agreed to stick together through thick and thin on the issues that matter to all of us,” Bradley said.

Boyer, meanwhile, said there wasn’t a way to force the budget through without helping sexual abuse survivors.

“Not unless they put one of us on the rack, literally.”

While negotiations with Boyer, Carter and Democrats remained at a stalemate Saturday, GOP leaders appear to have given up on another GOP holdout, Sen. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler after the House passed a tax conformity plan that Mesnard has vowed to oppose in the Senate.

Mesnard had support from several Republican senators, but their commitment started to dissipate Saturday.

Sen. David Farnsworth, who last week told the Arizona Capitol Times he was considering joining Mesnard in a stand against the budget if enough another senators did as well, said Saturday morning he was now supporting the deal.

“I want to be very clear that I am on the budget,” Farnsworth said.

We are now into the long Memorial Day weekend. I assume this means the legislature will not be back in session until Tuesday.