How Does Arizona's Legislature Work and Why Is There a COW?

By: Christine Fort, Dallin Holt, and Brennan A.R. Bowen

Here we are: 2023 is underway, the 56th Arizona Legislature has commenced its First Regular Session, and we are less than 100 days away from Sine Die. But what does any of that mean? A quick look at the structure, mechanics, and processes of the Arizona Legislature can provide some insight into how legislating is done in the Grand Canyon State.

First, the structure of the Arizona Legislature: Arizona has a bicameral (or two chamber) Legislature, consisting of the House of Representatives (the House) and the Senate. The House has 60 members, two from each Arizona Legislative District. The Senate has 30 members, one from each District.  Legislators are elected to two-year terms and are term-limited after four terms (or eight years). Arizona has no staggering of terms, so every member of the Legislature is up for re-election every two years. Currently, Republicans hold a narrow majority in both the House (31–29) and Senate (16­–14).

Second, the basic mechanics of the Arizona Legislature: The Arizona Legislature meets once annually for its Regular Session, which starts on the second Monday in January (January 9th for the 2023 session) and is scheduled to last for 100 days. At that point in time, the Legislature closes business for the Regular Session (Sine Die).  The House and Senate may, however—and often do—vote to extend the Regular Session beyond the 100 days. This is usually a consequence of disputes about the state budget, which the Legislature is required to pass before the end of Regular Session. The Legislature can also be called into a Special Session by the Governor to pass laws on a single issue.

Third, the basic process of passing legislation in Arizona: To become law, a bill must be voted through both the House and Senate.  Typically, a bill is introduced in one chamber and, if it passes through various readings and committees—including, at times, the Committee of the Whole (or “COW”)—it is sent to the other chamber for consideration through a similar process. If, after final votes by the House and Senate on identical versions of the bill, a piece of legislation passes both chambers, it is then sent on to the Governor. Once a bill reaches the Governor’s desk, the Governor may sign the bill, veto it, or do nothing.  If the Governor signs the bill or does nothing, it will become effective 90 days after Sine Die (unless the bill stipulates otherwise). If the Governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature may override that veto with a supermajority vote.

Although this introduction may provide you with a basic understanding of the Arizona Legislature, there are many other considerations if you, your business, or your organization are looking to support or oppose legislation this session (e.g., lobbyist registration and reporting requirements, gift rules, the RTS system, standing and interim committees, higher vote requirements for taxation and voter protected initiatives, amendments, emergency session, etc.).