Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes 5 bills in latest budget standoff

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer sent lawmakers a message Thursday: Don't mess with me.

After Brewer vowed not to sign anymore bills until Senate and House leaders made significant progress on a state budget and her proposal to expand Medicaid, Senate President Andy Biggs decided to test Brewer's resolve this week by sending her five bills.

Brewer vetoed them all.

Her vetoes Thursday included Senate Bill 1178, a divisive measure that sought to allow people to sue over potential violations of religious freedom. It had the backing of the powerful Center for Arizona Policy, while civil-liberties and secular groups said the legislation would allow churches and business to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people under the guise of religion.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said Thursday the governor's wishes were clearly communicated to Biggs. Both Brewer and Biggs are Republicans.

"It is disappointing I must demonstrate the moratorium was not an idle threat," Brewer wrote in all five veto letters addressed to Biggs. "I respectfully ask that legislators join me to resolve our budgetary and health care challenges. Once these primary issues are behind us, I am happy to once again consider unrelated legislation."

The other bills that were sent and rejected are relatively minor, and their fate is unknown. They could be resurrected through amendments to other bills being considered, but time is short as the Legislature works to finish its work for the session.

The governor put her moratorium in place more than two weeks ago, but Biggs said Thursday before the vetoes that neither the governor nor anyone on her staff has told him not to send bills.

"In fact, just a few years ago they sued us saying that they wanted us to send bills," Biggs said. "So we apparently, according to the Arizona Supreme Court, have a constitutional obligation to send these up."

The Senate passed a budget last week, but Brewer said this week the moratorium would not be lifted until the House took action. House Speaker Andy Tobin opposes Brewer's plan to expand Medicaid to 300,000 more poor Arizonans.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, of Chandler, had lobbied hard to pass the religious freedom bill. He said this week the measure would not expand what people can claim a religious exemption for, or alter the legal test that courts will use in religious freedom cases. He said the bill was not aimed at undermining a recent ordinance by the city of Phoenix that expanded protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

"It does not grant any new substantive rights," he said of the bill.

Civil-liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy had sought to downplay the bill's far-reaching implications. They said the bill would allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

The Senate passed the bill Wednesday and it was immediately sent to Brewer.

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