Jan 13, 2023 - Politics

Arizona AG to favor local control when lawmakers target cities

Photo illustration of Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes with lines radiating from her.

Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photo: Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images

Cities will get the benefit of the doubt and more latitude under Attorney General Kris Mayes when it comes to a law that GOP lawmakers have traditionally used to block local governments from enacting policies they disagree with.

Context: Under a 2016 law called SB 1487, any member of the legislature can submit a complaint to the AG if they believe an ordinance, regulation or other official action by a local government entity violates state law.

  • If the Arizona Supreme Court agrees with the AG that an ordinance or policy is unlawful, local governments must repeal them or lose their portion of state tax revenue.

Why it matters: Republican lawmakers have often used the complaint system against policies enacted by Democrat-led cities like Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson.

Driving the news: Mayes, a Democrat, tells Axios Phoenix that when her administration receives complaints from lawmakers, she'll start with the presumption that the disputed policy is lawful and constitutional.

  • "I have always been clear that I think Senate Bill 1487 was an attempt to undermine the ability of cities and towns to … pass ordinances and regulations that make sense for them. I believe in local control. And this law was a clear effort to undermine local control," she said.

Details: Of the 23 complaints submitted since 2016, former Republican AG Mark Brnovich's office found that 11 of the disputed policies did or might violate state law.

  • The Supreme Court upheld two of those policies — Phoenix's fees on ride-share services at Sky Harbor and Tucson's unique elections system.

Yes, but: Policies such as Bisbee's ban on plastic bags, Tempe's property tax breaks, Paradise Valley's restrictions on short-term rentals and Tucson's policy of destroying confiscated or forfeited firearms had to be repealed or amended.

State of play: Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said he expects Mayes to have a different philosophy than Brnovich, and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said the new AG respects the role cities play, and will be a fair partner with them.

  • The Tucson City Council approved a resolution on Wednesday asking Mayes to reconsider a December finding by the AG against its ordinance barring landlords from discriminating against rental applicants who use federal housing vouchers.
  • Mayes said her office will examine that request.

Yes, and: Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he expects GOP lawmakers to submit far fewer complaints to the AG due to partisan transition in the office.

  • "I suppose there will be a first attempt at it by somebody, and we'll see what the AG does," he tells Axios Phoenix.

Of note: Cities and counties are still subject to lawsuits if someone believes they've done something that violates state law, regardless of whether a complaint is submitted to the AG under SB 1487.

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