The Arizona Supreme Court announced on Dec. 2 it will not hear a lawsuit filed by local governments that sought to challenge legislation affecting land development and public benefits for immigrants.
The petition for special action filed with the court on Nov. 23 by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns charged that the provisions in question were unconstitutionally included in a state budget bill.
League of Arizona Cities and Towns Executive Director Ken Strobeck said the court’s refusal to hear the case was unexpected and that it is not known if the League would contest the budget provisions by filing a lawsuit with the Maricopa County Superior Court.
“We we’re very surprised by it, and we felt like it was a very solid case on the merits,” he said.
One provision requires public employees to verify the legal status of people before they can receive public benefits. Under the provision, failure to check applicants’ legal residency status can result in misdemeanor charges being filed against offending employees. State citizens also can now sue if they believe a governmental entity is not properly verifying applicants’ citizenship.
The second contested clause prevents cities and towns from adopting new development impact fees or increasing existing fees for two years. Those fees are applied to new construction and generally pay for services such as streets and sewers.
The league’s lawsuit claimed the provisions were substantive, and therefore could not be packed into a state budget bill. The additions to the budget were also claimed to unconstitutionally fall outside the scope of Gov. Jan Brewer’s call for a third special session.
The lawsuit targeting Brewer and the Legislature’s Republican leadership exacerbated tensions between state and local officials.
During a Nov. 24 press conference, Brewer, Senate President Bob Burns, House Speaker Kirk Adams and immigration hawk Sen. Russell Pearce, characterized the lawsuit as a cheeky attempt by local governments to avoid implementing tough sanctions against illegal immigration.
Adams said both provisions also fit comfortably in the realm of budget appropriations, as both were designed to limit public expenditures.
Strobeck, though, rejected the criticism and hinted the attack was aimed at creating political worries for local governments that would appear soft on immigration.
Most troublesome was allowing residents to sue public employees believed to be unlawfully aiding illegal immigrants with public benefits. That provision could result in local governments being forced to handle loads of unwarranted litigation, he said, adding that governments are already prohibited from giving illegal residents public benefits.
Other disagreements arose between the league and the Legislature over the developmental impact fees caps, as Adams accused the organization of reneging on an agreed-upon deal. Strobeck maintained that the league never agreed upon a clause that made the cap retroactive.
After the court’s announcement, Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman attempted to diffuse the tension between state and local governments by portraying the governor’s objection to the lawsuit as a matter of policy, and not politics.
“She wouldn’t have signed the bill if she didn’t think it was legal,” he said.