Hundreds and hundreds of bills die at the Arizona Legislature every year, but 2018 was unique. Top-tier items that faltered during the final stretch were priorities for Republicans who have a firm majority at the Capitol.
When lawmakers adjourned May 4, they failed to pass bills dealing with two of Gov. Doug Ducey's key priorities for the session: his gun-safety bill to prevent school shootings and a statewide revamp of water policies.
Republicans also did not succeed in passing a measure to overhaul the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which draws political district lines.
That was a top goal of the Legislature's two most powerful figures, Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard. It had appeared to be a slam dunk for the GOP a day before the session ended.
Power brokers at the state Capitol shelved many bills in the rush to pass teacher raises, which came as thousands with the #RedForEd movement led a historic six-day school walkout.
Republicans contend the pivot to education funding by Ducey and GOP leaders was a meaningful response to constituents, not a faltering agenda.
Some priorities 'took the backseat'
Ducey's office pointed to his role in pushing major legislation that got bipartisan support. In addition to a budget with substantial teacher raises, he advocated bills to combat the state's opioid epidemic and extend a sales tax that funds education.
“Those were really big lifts," said Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey's spokesman. "I think overall it was a really positive session."
Democrats have seized on Republicans' stumbles at the end of the session, suggesting that Ducey's firm grip on the agenda at the Legislature slipped as red-clad teachers stormed the Capitol for days on end.
“He had an agenda that he was no longer driving," said House Asst. Minority Leader Randy Friese, D-Tucson. "The issues were driven outside of the administration, even outside of the Legislature."
Mesnard, R-Chandler, countered that Republicans were always planning to invest heavily in education this year. However, he said the teacher walkout likely increased the amount and pushed other bills aside.
“There was certainly an impact that RedForED had," Mesnard said. "They took the backseat relative to that issue."
So, how did these three major priorities for Republicans fail, and what happens next with them?
Gun safety: Could Ducey call special session?
Gun safety wasn't on Ducey's agenda to start the session, but it quickly became a focus in the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and ignited a national push for firearm laws.
Ducey's proposal focused on measures to make school campuses safer. It was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, a powerful gun-rights lobbying group.
His plan called for about 100 more police officers in schools; a new type of restraining order to keep guns out of unstable people's hands; more mental-health counseling in schools; and a school-safety tip hotline.
But lawmakers watered down the proposal, Senate Bill 1519, as it advanced in the Legislature.
The restraining order piece was scaled back so only law enforcement — not family members teachers, school counselors and others — could petition a court to remove a dangerous individual's guns.
Funding for school resource officers was also cut nearly in half.
SB 1519 passed the Senate on a 17-13 party-line vote. But it never came up in the House of Representatives before lawmakers voted to adjourn.
Mesnard said the gun-safety bill was "swallowed up" in the debate over teacher pay. He said he ultimately realized that it would have taken many hours to get through a floor vote.
Debate could have taken an entire day given here was also skepticism from members of both parties.
Democrats said the plan didn't go far enough, especially since it didn't require universal background checks for gun sales. Some Republican lawmakers said they worried it could violate constitutional liberties.
"It’s really disappointing that no action as taken on it," Scarpinato said. "This was an issue that, unfortunately, I think got caught up in some partisan politics and ideology."
Friese said the governor's plan failed because he didn't seriously consider ideas from Democrats or students with the March for Our Lives movement, who frequently protested at the Capitol to demand stricter laws.
Organizers with March for Our Lives Phoenix led a 15,000-person march and occupied several state buildings after Ducey refused to meet with them.
“He did not make an attempt to bring us together," Friese said. "I think it was way too watered down."
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, sponsored SB 1519 with elements of Ducey's plan. After a four-hour public hearing and six-hour Senate debate, he said the notion that Democrats' input wasn't taken is "patently false."
He made a few amendments based on their ideas, including adding suicide-prevention training for teachers.
Smith said the bill's failure was ultimately about timing: “I think it was just very late in the year and just happened to be in the middle of a very large budget discussion."
But Scarpinato said the governor isn't done advocating legislation to improve school safety.
He said the issue could come back “next session, if not sooner" — signaling that Ducey might call the Legislature back this yearfor a special session. Scarpinato said they are keeping that option open.
While Ducey's bill failed, the state budget includes $3 million to fund behavioral counseling in schools for low-income students, which is expected to draw a $6 million federal match.
Water: GOP consensus wasn't in sight
More than a year ago, Ducey set out tomake water policy reform a focus of the legislative session. He called the state's water-policy power brokers, so-called "water buffaloes," to a series of closed-door meetings.
Ducey said the time has come for Arizona to address its long-term water challenges given years of drought and a looming shortage declaration on the Colorado River.
"This session, we must... put forward responsible policies that ensure Arizona speaks with one voice to secure the state’s water future for generations to come," Ducey said during his State of the State speech.
The governor released a policy paper with his goals, including ways to increase water storage in Lake Mead. He also pushed to assert more state authority over the board that runs the Central Arizona Project, the entity that manages canals to bring river water to the state's metro areas.
But Republican lawmakers introduced a bill package that was far from what Ducey envisioned. They even sought to weaken rules meant to protect aquifers from over pumping.
Democrats and some Republicans complained the outcome wasn't fruitful because the governor's closed-door talks weren't inclusive.
Scarpinato said Ducey's administration will go back to the drawing board and spend the rest of this year talking with lawmakers concerned about water. But water policy change has always been difficult in the desert.
“This is probably one of the most challenging issues that the state could deal with," he said.
Redistricting: Progressive groups aided defeat
Perhaps the most shocking Republican-backed bill to die in the waning hours of the session was the proposal to revamp the commission that draws the state's political boundaries.
Lawmakers in both chambers had previously approved a version of a bill to overhaul Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission. The panel draws district lines that determine who represents voters in Congress and the Legislature.
On the final night of the session, the Senate voted 15-13 to kill the plan, which would have gone on to the November ballot for voters to decide.
Mesnard said the measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1034, would create "fairer partisan representation" on the map-making panel. Republicans and Democrats have both complained, at times, that the commission is biased.
SCR 1034 would have expanded it from five to nine members. It's most controversial provision would have required the populations of districts to be more equal in number.
Democrats called the bill an attempt to skew the commission in favor of Republicans.
They said the requirement that districts have more equal population could lead to less minority representation in the state Legislature because slight population differences make it easier to draw minority-majority districts.
SCR 1034 failed after three Republicans voted against it at the last minute: Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix; Bob Worsley, R-Mesa; and Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford.
Worsley told the Yellow Sheet Report, a political newsletter, that he was worried the issue would hurt Republicans in November. The measure was opposed by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama.
"That was just one more thing we didn’t need for November," Worsley told Yellow Sheet.
Indeed, Holder cheered SCR 1034's defeat in a tweet: "When we fight — justice wins. I’m happy to see that Republican-led efforts to make the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission more partisan was defeated in the Legislature."
Brophy McGee said she voted against the bill after several constituents contacted her with concerns. She said she didn't think it was a "good year or a good time" to put a redistricting measure on the ballot with "zero consensus."
“My constituents didn’t like it," Brophy McGee said. “I would really like to see some reforms that everyone could agree to."
Griffin, typically the most conservative of the three opposing GOP senators, declined to explain why she voted against SCR 1034.
A coalition of progressive groups had campaigned to defeat the measure.
Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, an open-government watchdog group, said the ballot measure could have been a burden for Republicans seeking re-election.
"I suspect that they did a calculation… that this would look like a sort of partisan power grab," he said.“That just doesn’t look very good."