The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that state lawmakers could not include a ban on school mask warrants in Arizona and other issues – from voter registration to dog racing licenses – which were grouped together in budget bills.
One-line court order upholds a September Superior Court ruling that the legislature violated the single-subject requirement of the Arizona Constitution by “recording” unrelated measures in the drafts budget reconciliation law, or BRB.
READ ALSO: How downtown Phoenix restaurants are implementing mask policies
The ruling meant parts of four BRBs were invalid, including a section in one that allegedly denied state funding to Arizona schools that imposed school mask mandates in Arizona.
Tuesday’s decision is “nothing more than common sense precautions to protect children and young adults from COVID-19,” said Dr. Sean Elliott, medical director of infectious diseases and vaccinations for the section Arizona of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Appeals seeking comment from Governor Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office has argued unsuccessfully to maintain the mask ban and other policies in the BRBs, were not immediately returned.
But the court order was greeted as a “huge victory for Arizona students and voters” by Representative Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, the House Minority Leader, who said he It was also “a victory for the legislative process”.
This was echoed by Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, who said state lawmakers “have been playing this game for at least 15 years, where they put things in the bill. of budget reconciliation that do not appear in the title. or unrelated to the purpose of the bill.
âThey’ve always gotten away with it because nothing has ever reached a level like this, where stakeholders have put in the resources to launch a real legal challenge,â Humble said.
This challenge was taken up by the Arizona School Boards Association and other groups who claimed lawmakers violated the state’s constitution by packing four budget reconciliation bills with dozens of policy changes that didn’t were unrelated to the budget. These bills dealt with budgets for health, K-12 education, higher education, and âstate budget proceduresâ.
These bills included language that would have banned Arizona school mask mandates for students or staff, banned vaccination requirements for teachers, and prohibited state universities from requiring students to be vaccinated, masked or tested for COVID-19.
But COVID-19 restrictions weren’t the only policy guidelines inserted into the BRBs. The bills would ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, open access to voter registration databases for federal elections, ban local pandemic-related curfews, establish rules for terminating co-ownership agreements and dog-racing licenses, and would affect the practices of social media platforms relating to political contributions.
The state argued that all of these topics were related to the budget bills they were included in, but Maricopa Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper disagreed in a Sept. 22 decision that rescinded these policies for violating the Single Subject Rule.
“No matter how well the concept of ‘subject’ is interpreted for the single subject rule, the set of provisions is in no way linked or linked to each other or to an identifiable ‘budgetary procedure’, a. Cooper writes. “The bill is classic logrolling – a mixture of special interests cobbled together to force an all or nothing vote.”
On appeal, Arizona Solicitor General Beau Roysden argued that the titles of the bills informed “someone who had reasonable knowledge” of the budget of what was in them. It is the job of the legislature to decide whether matters relate to the title and not to the court, he said.
Judges appeared to be struggling to figure out where to draw the line of what can be included in a reconciliation bill. But Chief Justice Robert said at the start of Tuesday’s hearing that there was a “considerable degree of unanimity on this case” among the judges.
He said the consensus was that the bills break the one-topic rule, and he told the lawyers “you might want to spend some time talking about the cures, how we’re approaching this at this point. ‘to come up”.
Hours after the hearing, the court issued its order upholding Cooper’s decision. The order said the judges disagreed with the “trial court’s entire reasoning,” but upheld its decision and would issue a full opinion at a later date.
Despite the order’s brevity, Humble called it âsuper important case law for the futureâ of Arizona. He said he hoped the full court opinion “would go even further.”
“Going further, I mean giving more safeguards to the people and more safeguards to the Legislature when it comes to implementing the single title and the single subject forecast of the constitution, “he said.
For now, a statement from the Arizona House Democrats said, the order means that “students, teachers and staff in Arizona public schools will be better protected against COVID-19 because the boards schools can take the necessary steps to protect them without government politicized anti-science interference. and Republican lawmakers.
Elliott said he hoped Ducey would realize that “several legal bodies have determined his actions to be unconstitutional and I hope he can listen to the science in support of mask warrants and also vaccines for others. “.
âIf so, then he will take big steps to support the health of his constituents,â Elliott said.
Article by Ulysse Bex, Cronkite News