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Ethics chair won't hear complaint by Senate Democrats against GOP leaders

The Senate Ethics Committee won’t hold a hearing to investigate accusations that Republican leaders in the chamber violated Senate rules when they ignored Democrats’ efforts to repeal the state’s near-total abortion ban.

Democrats in the Senate filed an ethics complaint against Sen. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) and Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) on Monday. 

They claim the Republicans violated the chamber’s rules last week by adjourning rather than acknowledging Democrats’ motions to bring a repeal up for a vote. 

Sen. Mitzi Epstein (D-Tempe) and Sen. Lela Alston (D-Phoenix) said the Senate’s rules attorney and Senate secretary confirmed Shope broke the rules. So did the minority caucus’ counsel.

But Republican Sen. David Farnsworth, who has full discretion over ethics issues as the Ethics Committee chairman, won’t take up the complaint

“I don’t intend to do it,” Farnsworth said. 

Farnsworth said that it’s his philosophy that the voters are the ones who should hold elected officials accountable.

On April 10, the first day lawmakers convened after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1864 abortion ban, Democrats in the House and Senate tried to alter the rules in each chamber to bring up a vote to repeal. 

In the Senate, Epstein said that Sen. Anna Hernandez (D-Phoenix) had already hit her “request to speak” button and had been waiting to introduce her motion, but was ignored. 

Republicans moved to adjourn and the Democrats called “division” on the vote, a procedure that requires the chair — at the time, Shope — to divide all the members into “yes” and “no” votes to verify the judgment is correct.

But Shope claimed Democrats were too late when they called division, and adjourned over their “point of order” objections.

Epstein and Alston argued that the proceedings violated both Senate rules and Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which the Legislature follows.

“The adopted Rules of the Senate and Mason’s Manual are meant to set forth principles that protect parliamentary procedure and both the majority and minority party,” the complaint said. “If the actions that occurred yesterday on the Senate floor are allowed to stand, without comment or condemnation from the Senate Ethics Committee, the basic principles of our representative democracy break down.” 

They also accused Petersen of directing Shope not to listen to them.

Shope responded to the ethics complaint in a statement issued on Monday. 

“Shame on the Arizona Senate Democrats for stooping so low in their desperate attempt to weaponize the Legislature’s politics on ethics investigations,” he said. “I’m incredibly disappointed in the so-called leadership of Senate Democrats, but this is par for the course when those who’ve been elected to office have nothing more than selfish motivations driving their decisions,” he stated.

Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.