Senate Protocol Breach Arizona Democrats Challenge Abortion Law Blockade (1)

Senate Protocol Breach: Arizona Democrats Challenge Abortion Law Blockade

Two prominent Arizona Senate Democrats have filed an ethics complaint against Senate President Warren Petersen and President Pro Tem T.J. Shope for breaking protocols by blocking Democrats’ attempts to abolish the 1864 abortion prohibition last week.

The complaint refers to an incident on the Senate floor on April 10 in which Democrats claim Shope failed to recognize Sen. Anna Hernandez and Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein after both made legitimate attempts to speak. Rather than recognizing the Democratic senators’ repeated moves, the body adjourned.

“Senator Anna Hernandez rose to make a motion but was not recognized.” As soon as the majority leader moved to adjourn, I asked for a substitute motion. Both are in order and should have been acknowledged. Instead, I believe our microphones were turned off,” Epstein explained at an April 15 press conference.

Hernandez had intended to propose an amendment to House Bill 2241 that would have abolished the 1864 near-total abortion prohibition, which the Arizona Supreme Court had just declared enforceable the day before. Other Senate Democrats had prepared statements to coincide with their votes.

“You heard me say, ‘Mr. President Pro Tem, you know we want to talk,’ so what did they do? “They turned around and left,” she explained. “Senate President Pro Tem (Shope) broke the rules under the direction of the Senate president…and we want to acknowledge that.”

A complaint

Epstein and Sen. Lela Alston submitted a six-page ethics complaint alleging that Shope and Petersen violated Senate regulations as well as Mason’s Manual standards that regulate the parliamentary process and are followed by the majority of legislative bodies. The following highlights the alleged infractions committed by Shope while under the leadership and consultation of Petersen:

  • Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli moved to adjourn until April 17, followed by a motion for the preceding issue, which ends all debate and moves directly to a vote on the matter. According to Senate procedures, these motions must be moved and adopted to end the discussion. Democrats allege Shope acknowledged the move, but the whole Senate did not have the opportunity to vote on it, thus the motion was not adopted by the Senate – implying Shope violated Senate procedures by concluding the debate to adjourn.
  • Before Borelli’s motions, Hernandez tapped the “Request to Speak” button on her desk and waited “more than five minutes” for Shope to acknowledge her before making her motion. After Borelli’s motions, Hernandez raised a point of order to try to be noticed by Shope. By neglecting to recognize her, Shope allegedly violated Senate decorum and debate rules, as well as the Mason’s Manual, which specifies that the presiding officer must instantly acknowledge any points of order.
  • After Hernandez was ignored, Epstein rose to offer a substitute motion in response to Borelli’s earlier move for a preceding question. Since Borelli’s motion had yet to be voted on, Epstein’s motion was appropriate and should have been addressed by Shope. Instead, she was ignored.
  • When Shope attempted to follow Borrelli’s action, Hernandez remained upright and restated her point of order. While this could have been another opportunity for Shope to recognize her, Democrats argue she was “intentionally and knowingly overlooked.”
    After Epstein and Hernandez were disregarded, and Shope proceeded forward with a voice vote on Borrelli’s motions to halt the Senate’s business, Democrats requested division, a procedural safeguard that requires the chair to count the sides to confirm a voice vote. A division must be called before the chair announces the vote’s outcome.
  • Democrats allege that several senators, including Epstein, called for a division before the vote was revealed, but Shope ignored them, violating Senate rules and the Mason’s Manual.

“Mason’s norms, which govern legislatures, are intended to preserve and elevate the voices of everyone who represents the people of Arizona. Mason’s standards and our Senate rules ensure that every legislator has an equal voice. “Not recognizing those who rise is a terrible breach of the rules,” Epstein stated during the press conference.

What Happens Next?

Epstein stated that she expects the official complaint will drive her Republican colleagues to accept responsibility for their conduct on the floor and prevent them from deviating from procedural rules as Democrats continue to seek to abolish the abortion ban.

“The important thing is, number one, our majority Republican leadership recognizes and acknowledges they made a mistake, they broke the rules, and they disrespected the people of Arizona…” Epstein stated. “Number two, because we are coming back on Wednesday, do not do it again.”

In a written statement, Shope denied all allegations of impropriety and termed the accusation “bogus,” describing it as a “desperate publicity stunt to score cheap campaign points with their radical left base.”

“Shame on Arizona Senate Democrats for stooping so low in their desperate attempt to weaponize the Legislature’s policies on ethics investigations,” Shope added. “Neither I, nor President Petersen, who wasn’t even present in his chair at the time of the alleged offense, engaged in any sort of ethical violation by any stretch of the imagination.”

When asked what kind of sanctions she intends to see come out of this, Epstein replied that she merely wishes to prevent more violations of the regulations as Democrats continue to press for a repeal of the restriction that originated from a period when women were unable to vote or hold political office.

“The most disappointing outcome from this floor session was the blatant failure of the Senate President and the President Pro Tempore to recognize the words of two elected female members of the Senate on the day after the Supreme Court of Arizona upheld a law criminalizing abortion, a medical procedure used exclusively by women,” the Democratic senators wrote in their complaint.

At Monday’s news conference, Alston said she recalls the days before Roe v. Wade, when the 1864 abortion prohibition was in effect, and the harsh steps it caused individuals to undergo to receive health care.

“I remember times when women or girls went away to ‘visit an aunt or grandmother’ out of state, and they never came back the same — and in some cases, they never came back,” Alston told me. “There were back alley abortions, and if this law stands, they will return.”

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