State lawmakers worked late into the night Wednesday to wrap up this year’s legislative session, passing a handful of bills that aim to improve the Valley’s air quality, end the practice of government tax giveaways to lure businesses, and provide more benefits to workers injured on the job.
But the Legislature failed in last-ditch efforts to put new limits on abortions and to repeal parts of a drunk-driving law passed earlier this year.
The 2007 legislative session has lasted 164 days, making it the fifth-longest in state history. The record of 173 days was set in 1988.
“I think it was a solid session. And the real paradox is the long session gave us the time to work out complicated issues like the air-quality bill,” said Senate Majority Whip John Huppenthal, R-Chandler.
Lawmakers had hoped to close shop much earlier, but many of their biggest issues — such as the state budget and a bill to punish businesses that hire undocumented workers — hung over the Legislature until the very end.
Other lingering issues included an air-quality bill designed to keep the U.S. Environment Protection Agency from penalizing the state for failing to comply with federal standards.
East Valley residents would be barred from using leaf blowers and off-road vehicles during high-pollution days to cut down on the amount of dust that’s kicked into the air.
If Arizona doesn’t comply with federal standards by the end of the year, the state could lose federal money used to build and maintain highways.
“This was certainly a bill that needed to get done this year,” Huppenthal said.
Lawmakers also put an end to the use of tax incentives by cities in Maricopa and Pinal counties to lure retail development.
The debate over tax incentives had been particularly contentious in the East Valley, where a pair of mall developers in Tempe and Mesa each received tens of millions of dollars in tax rebates and other incentives as part of separate agreements with those cities to open there.
“I think this will reshape the way cities and towns do business,” said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, who voted in favor of the measure.
Likewise, lawmakers voted to increase benefits available to employees injured at work. Permanently or temporarily injured workers are eligible to receive up to two-thirds of their salary.
But existing state law caps that at $1,600 per month. The measure would lift that limit to $2,400.
All the measures passed Wednesday now head to the governor for her final approval.
Other measures fell by the wayside. Republican lawmakers in the Senate tried passing a bill limiting the circumstances under which girls under 18 could have an abortion.
The abortion measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert, had passed the House in March but had stalled in the Senate. It was the only bill voted on by the Legislature this year seeking new restrictions on abortion.
Lawmakers also failed to rally enough support to repeal a new law that requires all drivers convicted on their first DUI to use an ignition-interlock device to start and operate their vehicle. The device tests the alcohol level on the drivers breath and shuts down a vehicle’s engine if it detects even a small amount of alcohol.