When the Arizona Supreme Court slapped down how lawmakers approve “budget reconciliation” bills on November 2, they quashed more than the ban on schools requiring masks of faculty and students.
With its three-sentence order, the justices also removed a similar prohibition against cities and counties imposing mask mandates on those in public and charter schools.
Also gone is the threat of school teachers being sued by the attorney general on claims that they used public resources, ranging from email or work time, to “organize, plan or execute any activity that impedes or prevents a public school from operating for any period of time.” That was aimed at efforts to get teachers to stay home during Covid outbreaks at districts that don’t mandate face coverings.
Because of the Supreme Court ruling, universities are not precluded from requiring those on campus to be vaccinated against Covid or get tested regularly, as lawmakers had voted.
But there’s so much more that went up in a legal puff of smoke, from how elections are run to what happens when the next governor declares a state of emergency.
And it’s all because the court declared that lawmakers – and Gov. Doug Ducey who signed the bills – played fast and loose with the Arizona Constitution.
The justices, without comment, upheld a lower court ruling that four separate reconciliation bills violated constitutional requirements that they have a title that adequately informs lawmakers and the public of what changes in statute were being proposed. That resulted in a dozen or so challenged provisions being voided.
But the justices also found that one of the bills – labeled simply “relating to state budget procedures” – was so chock full of unrelated items that it also ran afoul of another constitutional requirement that all measures be limited to a single subject and related matters. So they declared the entire act nullified.
For example, there were several provisions on elections, like allowing the state Game and Fish Department to register voters and mandating that there be specific kinds of paper and fraud countermeasures on future ballots.
Yet the same measure, SB1819, also sought to preclude the kind of ongoing emergency declaration that Ducey declared on March 11, 2020, and still exists. It would have limited declarations to 30 days, with a maximum of three extensions and a requirement to get legislative OK for anything beyond 120 days.
But in a nod to the governor, who had to sign the legislation, that provision would not have taken effect until 2023 after Ducey leaves office.
Also stuffed into SB1819 was a task force to study “unreported in-kind contributions,” setting aside $500,000 based on questions raised by some GOP lawmakers who wanted to see if social media platforms were influencing elections.
There also was establishment of a “major events fund” to help underwrite the costs of the 2023 Super Bowl and other sports events, setting up a panel to study whether there should be a Southern Arizona Regional Sports Authority and even a provision removing the legal definition of what constitutes a “newspaper,” a maneuver that could allow free publications to accept and run legal ads.
Among the not-to-be laws was what some legislators referred to as a ban on teaching “critical race theory.”
That phrase was not in the legislation. And, in fact, what is critical race theory actually goes to the issue of whether there is inherent racism that effectively is baked into society and continues to have an effect.
But that didn’t stop proponents from seeking to declare it illegal to bar teaching that an individual, by virtue of race, ethnicity or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed by others of the same race, ethnicity or sex, or from teaching that any individual should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or other form of psychological distress because of their race, ethnicity or sex.”
But there’s so much more in the bills that the Supreme Court voided:
- Precluding the state or local governments from establishing a Covid “vaccine passport” or requiring any business to obtain proof of vaccination status of patrons.
- Exempting the Department of Public Safety from certain oversight requirements when it purchases body cameras for officers.
- Stripping the secretary of state of the ability to defend election laws – but only through 2022, the time that Democrat Katie Hobbs leaves office.
- Moving oversight of the State Museum from the secretary of state to the Legislative Council.
- Allowing a condominium to be sold only if all the owners agree.
- Setting up an “election integrity fund” to finance election security, cybersecurity measures and any post-election hand counts.
- Prohibiting the Arizona Lottery from advertising at a professional sporting event.
- Permitting the auditor general, an arm of the Legislature, to review the process used to maintain early voter lists – but only in Maricopa County;
- Petitioning the federal Election Assistance Commission to allow the state to require proof of citizenship on registration forms that allow people to vote only in federal elections.
- Reimbursing liabilities of the Department of Forestry and Fire Management in excess of $250,000.
- Converting the permits for dog racing, which was banned years ago, into permits for harness racing, something that does not now exist in Arizona.
- Setting up a special Senate committee to review the findings of the audit of the 2020 election.
- Establishing a “state permitting dashboard” to track authorization for public projects.
- Changing the duties and responsibilities of the Study Committee on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that a provision in a budget bill that allows workers to get a religious exemption from a vaccination without providing proof was voided. That provision was actually not challenged in court.