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Updated May 23, 2013 - 6:22 pm

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 Thursday rejected them all.

Her vetoes 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,” said Biggs, referring to a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling that bills
must be sent to the governor promptly. “So we apparently, according to the
Arizona Supreme Court, have a constitutional obligation to send these up.”

Hours later, after the vetoes were announced, Biggs said Brewer was being
“unreasonable” and “illogical.”

“What you’re doing at that point is you’re extorting the Legislature,” he
said of Brewer. “`If I can’t get what I want when I want it, then I’m going to
veto good policy’ – that’s not checks and balances.”

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.

Brewer also imposed a moratorium on bill signings in 2012 after urging
lawmakers to speed up the budget process.

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