Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce has placed new legislation on illegal immigration on hold pending action on a new state budget, a spokesman said Friday.
Pearce's pause for the bills reflects majority Republicans' stated priority for tackling the state's budget shortfall, spokesman Mike Philipsen told The Associated Press.
As Senate president, Pearce has control over scheduling of consideration of legislation.
The Mesa Republican is a longstanding champion of measures to crack down on legislation and he was the sponsor of the SB1070 law enacted by Arizona last year.
The new immigration measures include a sweeping bill by Pearce on education public services and other subjects ranging from driving to hiring. Other Republican senators sponsored two measures on citizenship and a bill on hospital admissions.
The legislation hasn't been scheduled for further Senate consideration since clearing a committee dominated by illegal immigration hard-liners during a marathon meeting that began Feb. 22 and ended early Feb. 23.
Philipsen said he wasn't sure whether the immigration bills would be allowed to advance before a budget is formally approved or whether the hold could be released earlier once there's agreement between Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican lawmakers on specific budget approaches.
But it's clear the immigration bills are on hold while Republicans are still negotiating the budget, he said.
Republican legislators generally welcomed Brewer's mid-January budget proposal, including its proposal to reduce the state's Medicaid enrollment by about a fifth to help close a projected $1 billion shortfall.
However, specifics of possible budget cuts are still in play, with Brewer planning in the next week or two to unveil a revised plan to revamp the Medicaid program.
The Republican-led Legislature has already approved its other top priority for the session, an economic development package that includes future business tax cuts.
Although the new illegal immigration measures won the committee's endorsements, it's unclear whether they have enough support from majority Republicans to win Senate passage in the face of unified opposition by the chamber's small Democratic minority.
With fallout from SB1070 still a factor amid the state's economic woes, some Republican senators have said Arizona has done enough legislation on illegal immigration for now. Others have said they want the state's budget troubles addressed first.
"You hear over and over from the caucus — got to focus on the budget, got to focus on jobs," Philipsen said.
Opposition by some Republicans isn't the reason for Pearce's temporary hold on the bills, Philipsen said.
Once the budget is moving, the immigration legislation "is not something that is going to get set on the backburner and get forgotten, believe me," he said. "And then the members who don't like it will have a chance to express themselves."
Holding up Senate action on the immigration bills could mean the Legislature does its heavy-lifting on that hot-potato issue until late in the regular session for the second year in a row.
Last year, SB1070 was approved by the Senate in mid-February but House approval and a second vote by the Senate didn't occur until April, after approval of the budget.
Approximately 200 high-school age protesters opposed to Pearce's new bill chanted and marched outside the Senate on Friday, an off-day for legislators.