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Az lawmakers prepare to suspend or end session due to coronavirus

Arizona lawmakers and their staff will continue to meet Tuesday and plan to pass a budget that extends current spending levels this week after federal and local public health officials said people shouldn't gather in groups larger than 10 people to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, the Arizona House of Representatives cancelled its committee hearings for the week. House Speaker Rusty Bowers made the announcement from the dais as the chamber convened Monday afternoon to begin its work for the week. Bowers said the plan at the moment is for lawmakers to pass a "baseline budget" along with about two dozen "non-controversial" bills that have bipartisan support and are needed to allow state agencies to operate.

"Anything that entails any floor debate, we're just pushing it off," Bowers said of the other legislation that lawmakers had been considering this session.

Bowers said the coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19, is a serious matter for lawmakers.

"We're trying to be responsible. Some of us have underlying health conditions," he said.

Senate President Karen Fann said the chamber will "take this one day at a time" after meeting with leaders from both parties.

No committees will meet Tuesday, said Mike Philipsen, a spokesman for the Senate GOP.

Little is known about the illness, but as it has spread around the world – nearly 182,000 cases have been confirmed, and more than 7,100 people have died – it has become clear that the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable.

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Bowers said that further details about what the legislature will be doing this week, and in the coming weeks, will come soon – possibly later Monday.

The legislature is already missing lawmakers. The House applauded when Bowers mentioned Dr. Amish Shah, a Phoenix Democrat, who is working as an emergency room doctor and has said he won't return to the Capitol in 2020.

In the Senate, three members were absent: Republican Sens. Paul Boyer and Heather Carter and Sen. Juan Mendez, a Phoenix Democrat. Mendez is out sick, but not from COVID-19 illness, said Aaron Lantham, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

The Yellow Sheet Report, a high-priced insider newsletter, reported March 13 that Boyer and Carter will be staying away during the coronavirus pandemic. Carter is a primary caregiver for an elderly family member, while Boyer has an infant at home, the publication reported.

Carter said in a tweet it's irresponsible for lawmakers to convene unless there's a plan "that focuses on immediate action to address health, life and safety" in the state.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa.