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House, Senate hope to roll out Arizona budget deal soon

Republican leaders in the Arizona Legislature said Thursday they hope to finalize a budget deal with GOP Gov. Doug Ducey over the weekend and roll out the plan early next week.

Senate President Karen Fann said she's hoping to brief small groups of majority Republicans starting Monday before introducing budget bills. The plan is to enact a budget by the end of the week, but glitches could delay progress.

"So depending on how everybody cooperates, and if we get everything done then that's the preferred plan," Fann said. "But if it stalls we could go another week or two if we don't get the votes."

House Speaker Rusty Bowers said he's also preparing for a Monday kickoff with member meetings that typically precede the introduction of actual budget bills. He declined to commit to that timeline, however.

"I think that we are close enough that there could be substantive progress on Monday," Bowers said.

Bowers moved Thursday to sideline opposition from a Republican senator who refused to back any budget until lawmakers took up a stalled proposal lengthening the amount of time a person who was sexually assaulted as a minor can sue.

With only a 17-13 majority and at least one other GOP senator backing Sen. Paul Boyer, Republicans would have lacked the needed 16 Senate votes.

Current state law allows only two years for someone to sue after turning 18. Boyer had proposed up to seven years after someone realized they had been sexually assaulted. That drew opposition from other Republicans, who believed it was unfair to allow someone to potentially be sued decades after an alleged assault.

Bowers said he was choosing a compromise. A draft of the legislation shows it increases the time to file a lawsuit to age 30, and restarts that clock if new criminal charges are filed for up to a year after the case concludes.

Boyer wasn't biting, saying on average people assaulted as minors don't come forward until they're in their 40s. Not letting someone sue once they realize they were victimized would allow predators to keep targeting children, he said.

"By not including a way to go after current sexual predators, I can't accept that," Boyer said.

Bowers said he's giving what he can.

"What Mr. Boyer decided to do is up to him," he said. "We are trying to address the challenge in the statute of limitations in a way that all the parties have agreed previously to do."

Minority Democrats aren't involved in ongoing negotiations between top Republicans and Ducey's staff. Bowers and Fann said they're getting regular briefings.

The governor proposed an $11.4 billion spending plan in January that mainly devotes a $1 billion surplus to state reserves and education funding.

Republican lawmakers objected to several parts of the proposal, including Ducey's plan to keep a tax windfall the state got from the 2017 federal tax overhaul and his plan to make a $542 million deposit in the state's rainy day fund, designed to prevent massive cuts if a recession hits. They instead wanted to refund that extra cash to taxpayers and pay down debt, with a smaller reserve fund deposit.

Bowers hinted that the governor may get much of what he wants, at least as far as the rainy day fund is concerned.

"We respect the governor, and we respect the governor's priorities," Bowers said. "We are working to get what he needs."

Republican Rep. Mark Finchem, who opposes the governor's plan to keep an expected $155 million windfall from the federal tax cuts, said negotiators have whittled their proposals down to two, including one that would adjust tax brackets.

"The federal government's taking less out of people's pockets," Finchem said. "Most of our caucus believes that it's not our place to turn around and pull that out of their pockets for the state's use. It was given back to the taxpayers, it needs to stay with the taxpayers."

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