Devastating. That’s how it felt earlier this week when the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling in Arizona School Boards Association v. State of Arizona. This decision strikes down critical reforms contained in a series of Budget Reconciliation Bills passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Ducey earlier this year.
Earlier this month the Arizona Supreme Court agreed with a lower court’s ruling that parts of 4 of the 11 budget bills signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey this summer are unconstitutional on procedural grounds. The reaction from business owners and community leaders was swift, with many left wondering when and how lawmakers will address the dozens of provisions dropped from those budget bills.
Among those provisions was a prohibition on a county, city, or town from issuing COVID-19 ordinances that impact private businesses, schools, churches, or other private entities, including mask mandates. Other prohibitions would have kept K-12 schools from requiring vaccines with an emergency use authorization for in-person attendance and ensured public universities and community colleges could not mandate COVID vaccines and vaccine passports.
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) describes the Justices’ recent opinion as “devastating” and “a big blow to the people of Arizona.” The organization has drawn attention to the uncertainty and frustration across Arizona at a time when the pandemic impacts are still being felt in the state’s economy, and as individual freedoms are under attack.
As a result, the AFEC is leading the call for the Arizona Legislature and the Governor to immediately address the critical reforms that the Supreme Court struck down.
“They must exhaust every option possible, including special session, to protect Arizonans from more COVID mandates and the bigoted teachings of Critical Race Theory,” according to AFEC. “But make no mistake, while this ruling is devastating, it will not stop the battle over these critical issues. There’s just too much at stake. Because if the uncertainty and frustration caused by these issues are allowed to continue, it would be the most devastating news of all.”
This past July, Arizona lawmakers and Governor Ducey did the right thing. Through a series of Budget Reconciliation Bills, they took important steps to protect the people of Arizona from more COVID mandates and to prevent children from being indoctrinated in public schools by Critical Race Theory.
While COVID was certainly an issue that warranted some action, it never should have included trampling on the rights of the people. And we definitely should not be wasting tax dollars on lessons that teach public school students that one race, ethnic group, or sex is in any way superior to another.
Not surprisingly, these laws sent teachers’ unions into a tailspin. As students headed back to campus, some Arizona schools decided to teach students that it’s ok to violate the law. And the Arizona Board of Regents recently announced that all three state universities will require their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 8.
The Arizona Supreme Court will not decide until at least Friday afternoon whether to allow Attorney General Mark Brnovich to bypass the normal appeal process with his challenge to Monday’s ruling by a Maricopa County judge who found dozens of new laws or amendments to existing laws unconstitutional.
Until then, the status quo remains in place, according to Justice Ann Scott Timmer, who signed an order Wednesday denying the attorney general’s emergency motion to stay the Sept. 27 ruling by Judge Katherine Cooper. The decision to deny the requested stay was made after Timmer conferred with five other justices, she noted in the order.
Among other things, Cooper’s ruling means school districts and charter schools can mandate mask wearing, state universities cannot require COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of in-person attendance, and teachers cannot be sued for organizing walkouts, based on the judge’s finding that all or part of four budget reconciliation bills (BRBs) signed by Gov. Doug Ducey violate the Arizona Constitution.
According to Cooper, the constitution requires the title of each legislative bill to properly identify a single subject matter, so unrelated provisions are not combined into one bill. But the attorney general calls Cooper’s ruling “legally erroneous” and argues the four BRBs are constitutional.
“Each of the provisions contained therein relate directly or indirectly to the subject of the title. And each of the provisions contained in SB 1819 are germane to the subject contained in its title—state budget procedures,” the State argues in the petition for transfer to case from the Arizona Court of Appeals and directly to the Supreme Court.
Such a transfer is warranted due to the impact of Cooper’s ruling which nullified 58 provisions of state law slated to take effect Wednesday, according to the petition.
“The trial court’s ruling carries significant implications for the operation of state government and the State will continue to suffer harm if the trial court’s ruling is not swiftly overturned, allowing the challenged provisions to immediately go into effect,” the petition states. “Extraordinary circumstances exist here and warrant immediate Supreme Court review.”
The court of appeals has set deadlines for briefing in its court just in case the Supreme Court denies the transfer. However, legal observers told AZ Free News that bypassing the court of appeals would be in the interest of judicial economy, as whoever loses there will immediately petition for review to the Supreme Court.
Timmer gave the various plaintiffs until 5 p.m. Thursday to respond to the State’s petition to transfer the appeal out of the Arizona Court of Appeals. The State’s attorneys then have until 3 p.m. Friday to file an optional reply.
The attorney general’s petition also proposes a series of deadlines for filing additional briefings if the justices grant the transfer. Those deadlines would keep the new laws and amendments on the sidelines until at least Oct. 18.
Effected by Cooper’s title / single subject ruling are Sections 12, 21, and 50 of HB2898 (K-12 Education), Sections 12 and 13 of SB1824 (Healthcare), and Section 2 of SB1825 (Higher Education). She also ruled the entire 55 pages of SB1819, the Budget Procedures bill, void due to the same violation.
UPDATE: At approximately 8:30 p.m., the Senate passed the primary budget bill and worked until 2:30 a.m. to pass all of the 11 budget bills including the tax cut.
Arizona lawmakers are nearly halfway toward approving what Sen. JD Mesnard calls a “once in a lifetime overhaul” of the state’s tax system, but whether the other half get approves this week is still in question.
As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate had passed 8 of the 11 budget bills on a 16 to 14 margin in a marathon day of amendments, commentary, and votes which was continuing as of press time. Among those eight were appropriation bills for higher education, criminal justice, health, environment, capital outlays, and transportation.
It also included the tax omnibus and revenue bills which are two of the three priorities of the legislature’s majority Republican caucus. And among the legislation were several amendments offered by senators which matched a variety of bills that failed to pass earlier in the session.
One amendment offered to the health budget bill, SB1824, came from Senate President Karen Fann to codify Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent executive order prohibiting COVID-19 vaccinations for community college and university students. It appears, however, that the prohibition is only valid while those vaccinations are offered under “emergency” approval.
That is one of the amended bills the State House is expected to consider on Thursday. None of the budget bills were discussed by the House on Tuesday because 28 of the 29 Democrats in the chamber failed to show up.
The maneuver by the minority party caused a lack of quorum due to the fact four of the 31 Republicans were participating remotely. House rules allow members to vote remotely but for purposes of determining a legal quorum there must be at least 31 representatives present on the floor or in their official House office.
In explaining his support of the budget bills, Mesnard cited several features, including an appropriation toward paying down state pension liabilities. He also noted income taxes will be cut “at a significant amount” which in turn will put Arizona in a positive competitive position.
Throughout Tuesday’s floor session, most of the 14 Democrats in the Senate proposed numerous amendments for how to spend Arizona’s $2.3 billion surplus. Many of the options involved additional funding for lower income residents but were voted down on a 16 to 14 margin.
And some supporters of the Democrats’ amendments suggested the tax cuts contained in the budget bills were disproportionately beneficial to higher income residents.
Sen. Sonny Borrelli said he took many of the Democrats’ comments “as contempt for the rich.”
Earlier in the day the House Committee on Government & Elections gave due pass recommendations to two bills, including SCR1010 which would promote a three-day States’ Convention in September. All seven Republicans on the committee voted for the Sen. Kelly Townsend sponsored bill but indicated they would likely vote against it on the floor.
However, the bill never made it to the full House due to the lack of quorum. The same problem affected Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s attempt via SB1431 to bring changes to the citizen advisory committees utilized by flood control districts.
Ugenti-Rita explained there is currently no restrictions on who sits on those committees, which has allowed city officials to hold seats on what is supposed to be a citizen committee. The bill would also mandate all counties with a population of 1.5 million or more must have a citizens committee; the only county which would be impacted by that provision is Maricopa County, even though Pima, Pinal, and Yuma also utilize citizen committees for their flood districts.