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Arizona Legislature has deal to break budget impasse

Arizona capitol
Posted at 4:58 PM, May 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-27 11:05:24-04

PHOENIX, AZ — A deal to break a deadlock that has prevented the Arizona Senate from passing an $11.8 billion state budget for days appeared to be in place Sunday.

The tentative agreement was confirmed Sunday afternoon by Republican Sen. Paul Boyer and Democratic Senate Minority Leader David Bradley. It would open the way for the Senate to pass a revised version of the budget approved by the House before dawn on Saturday when the Legislature returns on Memorial Day.

The impasse mainly involved a non-budget issue -- how long childhood sexual assault victims can sue their alleged assailants -- but also some funding issues. Boyer and GOP Sen. Heather Carter refused to join most other majority Republicans in backing the budget because Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth were blocking Boyer's proposal extending the time lawsuits could be filed.

Democrats aligned with Boyer and Carter in insisting on more rights for sex abuse victims, and with Carter in seeking more funding for key priorities. Fann didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday afternoon, and House Speaker Rusty Bowers also didn't respond to a message seeking comment.

The sex crimes issue revolves around the statute of limitations on victims suing child predators. Arizona law allows someone who says they were abused as a child to sue for only two years after turning 18. Boyer was pushing for a much longer period of time, to age 30 or 35, plus a "window" that would allow current victims who had been barred from court to sue.

That "window" was the bone of contention for Fann and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, a fellow Republican who controls the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said Saturday the limits on lawsuits prevent allegations against innocent people from being brought decades after an alleged incident, when they can't defend themselves. There is no limit on criminal charges for sexually assaulting a minor.

The impasse stalled work in the Senate Saturday, which returned late in the morning after the House convened until dawn to approve the budget. Boyer confirmed the tentative agreement, but declined to provide many details. Bradley confirmed it extended the statute of limitations to age 30 and allows victims now blocked from suing to do so until December 2020.

Boyer said he is waiting to see if Fann and Bowers put the proposal up for a vote Monday. It has been apparent for weeks that there are enough votes to pass his plan, but GOP leaders refused to do so. House Republican Majority Leader Warren Peterson also confirmed the agreement.

He tweeted, "We have a deal that balances protecting victims and the innocent. Likely we wrap up soon." That last statement refers not only to passing a final budget deal but to the Legislature adjourning for the year, which could happen Monday or early Tuesday if a deal is finalized and no other stumbling blocks appear.

GOP Sen. J.D. Mesnard also was holding out for changes in a tax cut plan, but appears unlikely to win that battle. Carter also had other issues with the budget, complaining that it lacked money for several key issues she had advocated for, including cash for physician training programs, low-income housing and other items. The version that passed the House early Saturday contained some of those items.

Bradley said Democrats have similar issues, and were still negotiating to get funding for dental care for pregnant low-income women, chiropractic care for Medicaid recipients, extended diabetes care and more cash for low-income housing.

They also are seeking more money to restore cuts to a school funding formula. Hours of negotiations Sunday have put most of the pieces in place for an agreement that gets at least some Democratic support, Bradley said.

That's a big deal for Gov. Doug Ducey, who has never gotten a budget passed with solid Democratic support.

"The framework for the deal is pretty much done, it's just now filling in those final blanks," Bradley said.