Amid the chaos of the Covid19 pandemic, Arizona lawmakers have proceeded with conducting the state’s business. Monday March 23rd, the legislature officially passed an $11.8 Billion budget as well as a targeted Coronavirus relief package. They then adjourned until April 13th or until the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House call them back to reconvene.
The “skinny budget” that passed was a simple baseline budget with a small amount of growth baked into the formulas in order to keep agencies operational. There were no ornaments on this Christmas tree.
In fact, though it seems like everyday a new bit of disheartening news breaks, the state’s unusually trim budget is definitely a silver lining. This is likely the most conservative budget passed by the legislature in a decade. Considering all the big government bills, special interest tax credit programs, and local pork projects that were moving through the system and were likely to be packed into the budget – passing a skinny budget was a win for taxpayers.
In addition to finalizing the budget, lawmakers also passed two bills to address specific issues with the Coronavirus – closure of schools and unemployment benefits. The bill related to public school closures included provisions to not require schools to make up for normally required days, extending state-wide assessment deadlines and requiring districts to continue to pay their employees through the crisis. The bill for unemployment benefits was an emergency measure that allowed the state to establish alternative unemployment insurance benefits for people specifically impacted by COVID19.
The budget and these bills now sit on the Governor’s desk and await his signature.
Meanwhile, the executive branch has been coordinating with the Department of Health on policies to curb the impacts of COVID-19. Here are some of the steps their administration has taken sequentially:
- March 11th – Governor issued Executive order declaring a State of Emergency. The order allowed ADHS to waive licensing requirements for healthcare officials, allowed the state to access emergency funds and gave the state emergency procurement authority. It also required insurance providers to cover out of network providers for tests and treatment of COVID-19.
- March 15th – In conjunction with Kathy Hoffman the Superintendent of Public Instruction, ordered the closure of all schools.
- March 17th – Issued new guidelines for restaurants, child care providers and nursing homes for social distancing and recommended gatherings of more than 10 people be cancelled or delayed.
- March 19th – Activated the National Guard to assist grocery stores and food banks.
- March 19th – Issued three Executive Orders: 1. Delaying requirements to renew drivers licenses and permits by 6 months (September 1, 2020); 2. Required the closure of bars, movie theaters and gyms. The Order limited the operations of restaurants as well as gave them the ability to deliver alcohol off premises; 3. Required the delay of elective surgeries to conserve personal protective medical equipment.
- March 20th – Executive Order expanding access to unemployment benefits to individuals impacted by COVID-19. The Governor’s office also extended the filing deadline for state income taxes to July 15th, mirroring the extension at the federal level.
- March 20th – Extended the closure of all schools by another 2 weeks; through April 10th.
- March 23rd – Executive Order issued to preempt cities and towns ability to supersede the Governor’s emergency protocols including closures of businesses. He also defined which entities and businesses and government services would be considered “essential.”
- March 24th – Exempted Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) from federal regulations requiring them to be supervised by a physician. This has been an issue debated at the legislature for the past several years.
- March 24th – Executive Order delaying evictions for renters specifically impacted by COVID-19.
- March 25th – Expanded telemedicine services and prohibited regulatory boards from requiring in-person examinations prior to the issuance of prescriptions.
Many of the executive orders issued represent vast deregulatory strides. Issues that have been highly contested for years such as expansion of telemedicine, allowing prescriptions to be issued without an in-person examination, and the waiving of licensure for medical professionals outside of the state are being swiftly implemented out of necessity. Despite the unfortunate circumstances that have precipitated these changes, they are a benefit to the state and to Arizonans. These regulatory roll backs and a lean state budget are a few silver linings for which we can all be grateful.