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Civic organizations push for Republicans to reinstate virtual testimony at the Capitol

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2022 - 5:39pm

Dozens of civic organizations are calling on top legislative Republicans at the Arizona Capitol to reinstate options for the public to testify virtually in House and Senate committees.

Both chambers adopted emergency rules in 2021 that allowed the public, and lawmakers, to participate in debates virtually during the pandemic. Lawmakers could even vote from their own homes. Senate President Karen Fann and House Speaker Rusty Bowers, both Republicans, have done away with those emergency accommodations, even as new COVID-19 infections in Arizona hit an all-time high.

In a joint statement, 33 organizations — including All Voting Is Local, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the Arizona Faith Network and Mi Familia Vota — called virtual access at the Capitol “a huge step forward in granting all Arizonans equal access to the political process in the state.”

“After a session during which remote testimony was a definite success, we must not backslide and eliminate video testimony, especially as the pandemic rages on,” they said. “Maintaining access to video testimony is essential for all Arizonans and particularly for those living in rural areas or on tribal lands and people with disabilities.”

So far Bowers and Fann have been undeterred by pleas, even from lawmakers, to reinstate virtual testimony. After Rep. Athena Salman requested to attend sessions remotely while pregnant, the speaker said the state’s constitution requires lawmakers’ physical presence at the House — though GOP leaders set aside that requirement in 2021.

Lawmakers in both chambers do have the option to cast votes remotely but only from their offices inside the Capitol, where they’re barred from debate — another departure from the emergency rules in place a year ago.

Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said the Senate’s return to “normal” seems driven by rank-and-file Republicans, some of whom bristled at COVID-19 mitigation measures put in place in January 2021. 

“You're on your own in terms of ensuring your safety, your COVID safety in the House or the Senate,” Rios said. “And that's basically what I told my member, you’re on your own. You need to take care of yourself.”

Politics