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State senators block request to adjourn House for Israel trip

Posted 3/1/24

PHOENIX — State senators voted Thursday to deny a request to allow the state House to adjourn for more than a week to allow 17 of its members to take a trip to Israel.

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State senators block request to adjourn House for Israel trip


PHOENIX — State senators voted Thursday to deny a request to allow the state House to adjourn for more than a week to allow 17 of its members to take a trip to Israel.

But House Speaker Ben Toma, who is going on the trip, told Capitol Media Services he has a legal work-around.

And Rep. Alma Hernandez, who organized what she said is an educational trip for lawmakers, said it is still on. The Tucson Democrat also used a derogatory term towards Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, who led the effort to block it.

The crisis surrounds a section of the Arizona Constitution that says  neither the House nor Senate can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other. Such permission has been routinely granted for things like a long holiday weekend.

This time, however, the House asked for permission to be gone from March 5 until March 12.

Kern said he was “appalled” House leadership would make such a request even before lawmakers adopted a state budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget is the one thing lawmakers are constitutionally obliged to do each session.

The trip is being financed by itrek, a nonprofit based in New York City that says it “brings the richness of complexities of Israel to life through Israel treks that combine education, culture and fun.”

“This is to educate people to what Israel’s all about,” Hernandez said.

“The trip is not a luxury vacation,” she said. “There’s a war going on.”

Hernandez, who has championed several measures promoting Holocaust education in public schools, said the trip will help inform other lawmakers of the importance of such programs.

“One of our stops is at Yad Vashem,” she said, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. “It’s very important of them to have them see, when I’m talking about these things, this is really important, this is what we’re talking about.”

Hernandez said there also are plans to meet with the families of some who were taken hostage after Hamas invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. Meetings also are planned with elected officials and students.

And what about what is currently happening in Gaza as the Israeli military has bombed and invaded and killed tens of thousands of Palestinians?

“If you’re asking if we’re going there? Of course not,” Hernandez said.

“That’s something we’re not able to do,” she said. “But we are meeting with Palestinian students.”

Kern said it’s not about the trip. And he said he doesn’t even mind if it’s being paid for by lobbyists, something Hernandez said is not true.

The issue, he said, is being gone during the session that always is scheduled from early January through at least late April.

“The voters to me are not being represented well,” Kern said.

It starts, he said, with the lack of a budget, which has to be done by June 30.

“They can go in August, they can go in September,” Kern said.

Toma sniffed at that excuse. The speaker said there is currently no progress on the budget because Gov. Katie Hobbs has so far refused to negotiate. And he said other activities, including committee meetings by the remaining representatives in the 60-member House will continue.

Toma said all this is a simple matter of politics.

Both he and Kern — along with others — are running to be the GOP nominee for the congressional seat that is opening up next year with the decision of incumbent Republican Debbie Lesko.

“What’s happened right now is basically a desperate attempt by a fledgling legislator to be relevant in a congressional race where he has zero chance of winning,” Toma said. “So he’s decided to be petty about it.”

Toma has been endorsed by Lesko and various area mayors. And Abe Hamadeh, also running, has the backing of former President Trump.

While the Senate refusal requires the House to meet — at least every three days — there are options.

What Toma is looking at is having Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, who is the speaker pro-tem, come in every three days with at least one other lawmaker. That enables them to gavel the House into session, note there is no quorum, and adjourn.

Other Republican senators who are more politically aligned with Kern than Toma also criticized the trip.

“This isn’t about the trip itself,” said Sen. Justine Wadsack of Tucson.

“I think any one of us would be honored to go on trip to Israel,” she said. “But not during session.”

Wadsack also pointed out, pursuant to common practice, lawmakers are paid a per diem allowance, on top of their $24,000 annual salary, for every day the Legislature in in regular session. That means not only the normal Monday-through-Thursday days they meet but also on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

And in this case, she said, they will be paid for the days they are out of the country.

“If they were taking an unpaid leave, that might be a different story,” she said. “But they’re all still getting paid to work.”

And Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, also said this isn’t about Israel.

“The land of Israel is the land that God seeks out,” she said.

“God blessed Israel, King David,” Shamp said. “But I respectfully vote no.”