Tucson Puts COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate On Hold After Millions In State Shared Revenues Imperiled

Tucson Puts COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate On Hold After Millions In State Shared Revenues Imperiled

By Terri Jo Neff |

The City of Tucson has placed its controversial employee COVID-19 vaccine mandate on hold after Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced Tuesday that the city acted unlawfully last month when it passed an ordinance allowing for a five-day unpaid suspension of employees who do not provide proof of vaccination.

“Until we have a better understanding of our legal position in relation to today’s report, I have instructed staff to pause on the implementation of the policy,” Tucson City Manager Mike Ortega said after the attorney general issued his legal opinion on Tucson City Ordinance 11869 which took effect Aug. 20.

Brnovich’s opinion also noted that if the ordinance is not repealed within 30 days, he will advise State Treasurer Kimberly Lee to withhold millions of dollars from the city’s portion of state shared revenues until the city comes into compliance. He also said Tucson city officials could face potential liability claims from employees affected by the ordinance.

“Our office determined today that Tucson’s vaccine mandate is illegal, and the city could be held liable for attempting to force employees to take it against their beliefs,” Brnovich said. “COVID-19 vaccinations should be a choice, not a government mandate.”

A March 2021 report by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns estimated Tucson’s FY2021-2022 shared revenues at more than $175 million.

It is unclear whether simply putting enforcement of the ordinance on hold is sufficient for compliance with the attorney general’s 30 day deadline. Mayor Regina Romero said on Tuesday the city is reviewing its options and that she and the council “will need to provide direction as to how we proceed from here.”

Brnovich’s legal opinion came in response to an inquiry from Sen. Kelly Townsend about whether Tucson’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees violated state law, particularly Senate Bill 1824 which prohibits the state and any cities, towns, and counties from implementing such a mandate.

Although SB1824 does not take effect until Sept. 29, Gov. Doug Ducey used his statutory emergency powers to issue Executive Order 2021-18 earlier this year to prohibit mandated COVID-19 related vaccinations for state, city, and county employees.

After Brnovich’s announcement, Townsend (R-LD16 called on Tucson Mayor Regina Romero to formally end the city’s ordinance, which applied to not only current employees but applicants as well.

“It is imperative that we not only respect the rule of law, but that we not allow our fear of a virus to run roughshod over the rights of the citizens of Arizona,” Townsend. “I wish to thank the Attorney General for his response and I encourage every elected official and bureaucrat to remember that it is the people of this State that employ us and whom we answer to, not the other way around.”

But Townsend did not stop there, calling on Tucson city employees to pursue legal action due to the ordinance.

“I further encourage those who were forced into taking a COVID-19 vaccine against their will in order to maintain employment to seek damages and to hold [Romero] fully accountable for this illegal act.”

It is unclear whether any Tucson employees have been disciplined with suspension, or whether ongoing refusals have subjected employee to more severe discipline, such as termination.

Private businesses are exempt from the provisions of Ducey’s executive order and SB1824. However, last month Brnovich issued a legal opinion making it clear such COVID-19 vaccination mandates must allow for religious and medical exemptions for employees.

That legal opinion was also issued in response to a request from Townsend.

Tucson Threatens to Fire First Responders That Refuse COVID-19 Vaccine

Tucson Threatens to Fire First Responders That Refuse COVID-19 Vaccine

By Corinne Murdock |

Tucson’s vaccine mandate may be the end of a career for many first responders. The city now requires that all of its employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Tuesday – also the deadline for all religious and medical exemption applications. If not, city employees face penalties such as unpaid suspension and are excluded from certain benefits such as leave. The council plans to convene again on September 9 to determine whether they’ll make refusal of the vaccine a fireable offense; this decision is contingent on the amount of employees who get vaccinated.

The vaccine mandate impacts first responders the most. According to city data, firefighters and police officers have the lowest vaccination rates among city employees. City data also notes that these first responders collectively answered nearly 435,000 calls in 2020 – even with stay at home orders and mandated closures.

One legal challenge to the vaccine mandate has already been shot down. Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Gordon denied a request from the Tucson Police Officers Association (TPOA) for a restraining order against the city policy. Gordon said that TPOA and those who testified failed to show that they would suffer irreparable harm from the mandate.

Tucson City Council asserts that strict measures should be taken for those who don’t get vaccinated – even termination. Councilman Steve Kozachik suggested that the city fire all employees who don’t become fully vaccinated by the end of September.

“If left to me, I’d set a date [or] a deadline and terminate anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated,” stated Kozachik. “The ordinance should say ‘get vaccinated by September 25 – fully vaccinated – or you forfeit your employment as a city worker.’”

Tucson’s mandate comes as health officials are urging booster doses of the vaccine, following reports of more breakthrough cases and a spike in the Delta variant.

In an executive order published two weeks ago, Governor Doug Ducey clarified that vaccine mandates were outlawed by statute. The governor noted that any violations of this law would be considered a class 3 misdemeanor and subject to legal action.

In relation to Ducey’s remarks on the legality of vaccine mandates, Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced last week that his office was investigating Tucson’s vaccine mandate.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) published an opinion last month arguing that emergency use authorization-only vaccines could be mandated.

State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) told AZ Free News that this mandate was a politicized move that threatens public safety. The representative assured that the state legislature would mete out proper justice if Tucson doesn’t retract its mandate.

“Tucson has gone full communist with its latest threat to fire employees who make the individual choice to hold off on taking the COVID vaccine at this time,” stated Hoffman. “The fact that Tucson’s partisan politics would sacrifice public safety to promote an unlawful, anti-science, forced vaccination policy is a bridge too far. If the far-left politicians in Tucson refuse to follow the law, the legislature will have no choice but to address their lawlessness come January.”

Similarly, Alex Kolodin, the attorney for the biology teacher suing Phoenix Union High School District (PXU) for its mask mandate, said that Tucson’s mandate is a means of catching the President’s attention.

“Firing first responders during the public health emergency just so that they can suck up to Joe Biden by flouting the law seems like a really bad move,” assessed Kolodin.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.