Legislators Trade Barbs Over Bill That Would Protect Businesses From Federal Overreach

March 18, 2024

By Daniel Stefanski |

Arizona Republicans and Democrats are warring over an amended bill in the state legislature that would serve to protect businesses against overreaching government bureaucrats.

On Friday, State Representative Matt Gress sent a letter to Governor Katie Hobbs over her “recent press release voicing opposition to [his] Floor amendment to H.B. 2209.” The bill, which was sponsored by Representative David Livingston, would “add certain responsibilities to the Industrial Commission of Arizona (ICA) relating to violations and inspections [and] continue the ICA for three years.”

The proposal passed out of the Arizona House Committee on Commerce with a 10-0 vote before meeting resistance from the chamber’s Democrats after an amendment from Gress. The Republican lawmaker’s amendment did the following:

  • Includes a requirement for the determinations, penalties, and fines for labor violations to be considered, authorized, and determined by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of commissioners present and voting.
  • Instructs the commissioners to consider whether a violation continues after the employer’s course of conduct has ceased.
  • Prohibits the Director from allowing any individual to accompany an inspector when conducting inspections for the ICA unless the individual meets specified criteria as outlined.

House Democrats attacked the amendment, insinuating that it would “make Arizona workplaces a far more dangerous place to be.” The Caucus’ “X” account posted that Gress’ “meddling could result in federal OSHA taking over Arizona’s state workplace oversight responsibilities.”

The amended legislation narrowly passed the chamber with a 31-28 vote (with one seat vacant).

Gress’s amendment earned a response from the Area Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, T. Zachary Barnett, who wrote to the ICA Director, saying, “the impact of House Bill 2209 on the State Plan’s enforcement program would result in the Arizona State Plan not being ALAE [“as least as effective] with respect to who is permitted to participate in an Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH) inspection.” Barnett requested “that these changes be omitted from Arizona’s legislation to avoid OSHA reaching an adverse ALAE determination with respect to the Arizona State Plan.”

In his letter to Hobbs, Gress pushed back on OSHA’s assertions, stating that the letter from the federal bureaucrat “does not provide any legitimate reason for opposing H.B. 2209.” Gress said that the amended bill “will prevent potential safety and financial liability from union organizers, outside agitators, and other third parties who may enter Arizona workplaces with accompanying state OSHA inspectors.” He added, “H.B. 2209 maintains the rights of workers to decide for themselves about union representation, protects Arizona businesses from excessive costs and injury claims and infringement upon their property rights, and promotes safety during worksite inspections.”

Gress then made eight arguments to support his amendment against the claims of OSHA and other detractors. Those were that “H.B. 2209 is consistent with 40 years of interpretation of federal law and seeks only to mitigate the harm from a union-backed expansion of OSHA practices proposed by the Biden Administration,” that “Mr. Barnett’s criticism of H.B. 2209’s definition of ‘authorized employee representative’ is baseless because H.B. 2209 mirrors federal law,” that “H.B. 2209 would enable businesses to protect their trade secrets if outsiders are allowed to accompany Arizona OSHA inspectors,” that “H.B. 2209 would enable businesses to preserve safety during inspections that include outsiders in the workplace,” that “H.B. 2209 will reduce abuses from unions, outsiders, and third parties using OSHA as a tactic in ‘corporate campaigns’ to punish businesses whose workers choose not to be represented by a union,” that “Mr. Barnett’s letter neglects to mention the process entailed for federal recognition of Arizona’s State OSHA plan,” that “it is inappropriate for Mr. Barnett to comment on the amendments to ARS 23-108.03 and ARS 23-408(M),” and that “Mr. Barnett’s letter is simply the latest attempt of OSHA’s repeated pattern of bureaucratic rivalry with the Arizona State OSHA plan.”

Gress ended his letter to the governor by urging her “not to be distracted, deterred, or intimidated by the unfounded opinions expressed in Mr. Barnett’s letter,” but “instead [to] stand with Arizona businesses in support of H.B. 2209 and encourage all legislators to vote in favor of H.B. 2209.”

H.B. 2209 now resides in the Arizona Senate for consideration.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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