AP NEWS

Child sex assault lawsuit proposal complicates budget battle

May 2, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) — A fight over a proposal to increase Arizona’s statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging childhood molestations has thrown a new wrinkle into already contentious state budget negotiations.

Republican Sen. Paul Boyer said Thursday he won’t vote for any budget deal unless his proposal giving victims of childhood sex assaults more time to sue gets a vote. Senate President Karen Fann said she won’t put that up for a vote until a deal is struck with opponents — and no deal is in sight.

Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard also says he’ll hold out unless lawmakers buck Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to pocket excess cash the state expects because of the 2017 federal income tax overhaul. With Mesnard and Boyer refusing to back a deal, Fann lacks the needed 16 GOP votes to get a Senate budget passed.

The developments come after weeks of negotiations over the governor’s proposed $10.6 billion budget proposal and as a Senate version that fails to fully back his plan was leaked to media organizations.

The leaked spreadsheet of the Senate budget plan shows majority Republicans are refusing to give Ducey the additional $542 million deposit in the state’s rainy-day fund he wants. The governor wants the fund to reach $1 billion as a backstop against a recession. The documents show Senate Republicans only want to $175 million.

Fann said Thursday no one should rely on the leaked spreadsheet.

“That thing at this point is so old,” Fann said. “There’s been three other drafts done since then.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak declined to say if the governor would accept a significantly lower rainy day fund deposit. “We look forward to working with the Legislature on a final plan. But we do not negotiate the budget through the media,” Ptak said.

Other budget issues include how to deal with a $32 per-vehicle license fee adopted last year after lawmakers voted to approve a fee estimated at just $18. Ducey’s budget retains that fee, while the Senate plan cuts it and replaces that funding with taxes on some internet sales that hadn’t previously been collected. The Senate plan also cuts spending in many other areas compared to the governor’s plan, including $35 million in university funding.

It was clear Thursday that a budget deal was not immediately in sight. Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said while Democrats have talked with Fann, they’ve not been included in budget negotiations. The Legislature has been in session for 109 days, beyond the 100 day time limit in law and nearing the 120 day limit when lawmakers’ per diem payments are cut.

In the House, Democrats are also cut out of the process, although they gained seats this year and Republicans hold just a tiny 31-29 majority.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers said last week that he’s not planning to bring Democrats into the talks despite his party’s slim majority. And minority leader Rep. Charlene Fernandez slapped GOP lawmakers, noting that they don’t know how to deal with a $1 billion surplus.

“It’s always been tax cuts and tax credits and sweeping funds to balance the budget,” Fernandez said last week. “And now that they have some revenue they’re not sure how to act. They need to start pulling us in so that we can work together so we can start investing in the things that we need.”

For Boyer, the change in the statute of limitations for sexual assault lawsuits is an important fight. He wants to give victims until age 25 to file suit, up from 20 now.

“Right now we have one of the worst laws in the country as far as time goes,” Boyer said. “So we’re saying that as a child sexual assault victim you only have until the age of 20, two years after the age of majority, to civilly file a lawsuit to go after your perpetrator.”

Republican Sen. Eddie Farnsworth worked to kill his proposal earlier in the session, saying Boyer’s approach was unworkable because it would have allowed a “window” for victims to sue if they recalled a childhood assault decades later.

“It’s the whole concept of the statute of limitations, and he wants to remove the statute of limitations completely, which is very, very dangerous and bad policy,” Farnsworth said.

Boyer said he’s willing to ditch that “window,” but so far doesn’t have Fann’s support.