PHOENIX -- State lawmakers approved $55 million Thursday to provide resources for the Department of Health Services to deal with COVID-19.
Legislation given unanimous consent by the House and Senate provides an immediate $5 million infusion. But it also sets aside up to $50 million more for Health Director Cara Christ to use at her discretion between now and June 30.
The only requirement is that she inform the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of how she intends to spend the cash. She is not required to get approval of committee members.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed the measure Thursday afternoon.
All of the dollars are coming from the state's "rainy-day'' fund, a $1 billion set-aside of state cash for both emergencies like this as well as to deal with ups and downs in state revenues.
But that question of unanticipated changes in income has come into sharp focus as the state begins to assess the impact of the virus on the economy.
The latest blow came Thursday when Major League Baseball canceled spring training. The most recent studies show that spending by teams and those who visited Arizona to attend the games generated about $25 million.
On top of that are the decisions by various groups to cancel their conferences as well as reduced tourism overall. And as investors sell of their stocks to minimize their losses that will affect what individuals pay in income taxes in April 2021.
Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, the House speaker pro-tem, said all that clouds the revenue picture. And that, in turn, could delay adopting a state budget for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1, both in the "wish list'' of new spending and proposals to cut taxes.
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said the approval of the funds recognizes the fact that quick action is necessary to protect Arizona residents against further spread of the disease beyond the nine cases that have so far been identified. And she praised Christ as "an expert epidemiologist.''
But Steele said that Christ can't really devote all her energy to COVID-19.
That's because she also has been functioning as acting director of the Department of Economic Security since last October following the resignation of Michael Trailor from that position. In fact, Ducey, in tapping Christ for the dual role, also tasked her with leading a national search for a new DES director.
"I think that she should be able to, in this time of a pandemic, devote all of her time to the operation of the Department of Health and the focus on the corona virus,'' Steele said. "It concerns me that she also has this side hustle of being the director of DES on an interim basis.''
In separate action Thursday, state lawmakers are moving to limit public access to the Capitol amid fears of the spread of COVID-19.
The directive Thursday from House and Senate leaders closes off the public gallery of both chambers. This is the area above the floor where people can watch debate and votes.
That limits viewing to online.
None of this closes committee meetings where lawmakers take testimony on bills. But the directive urges the people who chair those committees to limit the number of speakers -- perhaps to just a few from each side of an issue -- and encourage those with positions to find other ways to inform lawmakers.
That includes not only phone calls and emails to legislative offices but the use of the Legislature's "request to speak'' system which allows people to put their views directly on the computers of committee members as they are reviewing specific bills.
Others who have no specific business, however, are being turned away. That includes school field trips, and visits by outside organizations and foreign dignitaries.
There also are specific directives.
"All members and staff must avoid hand shaking,'' it says. It also says lawmakers and staff should avoid in-person meetings and instead consult by telephone or online video.