Arizona Republicans voted Tuesday to censure a Democratic lawmaker who hid Bibles in a lounge for legislators — a move that came after the initial vote to expel her failed on the House floor.

On the last day of its legislative session, the Republican-led chamber voted 30-28 to formally discipline state Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton (D), who was caught on camera in April stowing the statehouse’s two Bibles under sofa cushions. The Tucson Democrat soon apologized over what she called a “simple little prank” and a “peaceful, playful protest” meant as commentary on the separation of church and state. But a bipartisan ethics committee determined last week that her behavior amounted to “disorderly conduct,” a violation of House rules.

Republican lawmakers tried to oust Stahl Hamilton, decrying her prank as “flagrantly offensive,” as Rep. Justin Heap (R), who voted for her expulsion, put it. Yet without Democratic backing and with four Republicans voting against it, the motion fell short of the required two-thirds majority to pass.

Still, GOP legislators, who hold a slim majority in the state House, proceeded with a vote to censure Stahl Hamilton — a motion requiring a simple majority. But that move sparked tensions inside the House on Tuesday: With two lawmakers not voting because of excused absences, Democrats argued it should’ve taken 31 votes to approve the censure.

Motion to expel Rep Stephanie Stahl Hamilton requires 40 votes. It failed, 27-31, with 4 GOP reps, Cook, Hendrix, Kolodin, & Payne, joining D’s in voting no.

— Capitol Watchdogs (@CapitolWatchdo2) June 13, 2023

The censure against Stahl Hamilton brings an end to a months-long saga that started March 23, when a pair of Bibles at the Arizona House were reported as missing from the legislators-only lounge. According to an ethics complaint filed by three Republican lawmakers against Stahl Hamilton, the chamber’s security team initiated a “comprehensive search” that ultimately found the books underneath some couch cushions.

A week later, one of the Bibles went missing yet again — this time, to be found inside a refrigerator, the complaint states. The House chief of staff then ordered a security camera to be installed inside the lounge, and on April 10, Stahl Hamilton was seen tucking the Bibles under sofa cushions.

Soon after the footage made headlines in late April, Stahl Hamilton delivered a speech on the House floor apologizing for her antics, which she said were a form of protest “in response to the weaponizing of religion in politics.”

“I hold Scripture very dear to my heart,” Stahl Hamilton, who is an ordained minister, said on April 26. “… I have the utmost respect for people of all faiths, and for people who choose not to have a faith. And because of that respect, I recognize my actions could have been seen something as less than playful and offensive.”

Five days after she apologized, the three Republicans filed an ethics complaint against Stahl Hamilton.

The move sparked backlash from Democrats, who decried the complaint as overblown.

“This could have been handled with a phone call by the speaker and the majority. It didn’t have to be a political gotcha moment,” House Minority Leader Andrés Cano (D) told Arizona PBS in May.

Last week, all five members of the ethics committee — three Republicans and two Democrats — ultimately found that Stahl Hamilton violated a House rule against disorderly behavior and “deprived members who choose to exercise their religious beliefs by referring to the biblical texts of an opportunity to do so.”

The House Ethics Committee finds unanimously that Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton’s behavior constituted disorderly conduct in violation of House Rule 1.

Appropriate action will be taken.

— Arizona Majority (@azmajority) June 10, 2023

On Tuesday, some Republicans referenced the recent ousting of Rep. Liz Harris (R), who was expelled in April after an ethics committee found that she had lied about false testimony given during a hearing on elections. Some cited the ousting of Harris, who was also found to have engaged in disorderly conduct, as a reason to expel Stahl Hamilton.

“How we operate while we are here depends greatly on our leadership and our consistency while we’re in session,” said Rep. Joseph Chaplik (R), referencing the bipartisan vote for Harris’s expulsion. “I vote yes.”

Democratic lawmakers pointed to Stahl Hamilton’s apology, which Rep. Nancy Gutierrez (D) said “was plenty.” Gutierrez also said Republicans’ “righteous indignation is misplaced,” as the Bible is the only religious text available in the House.

“They respect all religions, when it’s only the Bible that I’ve ever seen in that lounge,” she said. “It’s never been the Quran or the Torah or the Bhagavad-Gita.”

Stahl Hamilton’s censure follows other recent instances in which Republican-led state legislatures have disciplined Democratic lawmakers over conduct.

In April, Republicans unseated two Black Democratic lawmakers for participating in a protest in the Tennessee House chamber in support of gun control — though they were later reinstated by local officials. Three weeks later, Republicans in Montana punished a transgender Democratic lawmaker who told her GOP colleagues they’d have “blood on your hands” for supporting a ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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