Groups contend Arizona bills cross legal lines

AP News
Posted: Nov 27, 2009 11:31 AM

The Arizona Supreme Court is being asked to overturn the Legislature's use of budget laws to set state policy on topics ranging from teachers' seniority rights and immigration enforcement to mortgage lawsuits and municipal building codes.

A teachers union and other groups contend in recent lawsuits that lawmakers crossed the state Constitution's rules for lawmaking, including ones intended to have legislation considered on its own merits and in the light of day.

Lawsuits filed by the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona Bankers Association and the League of Arizona challenged bills or parts of bills approved in August by lawmakers and signed into law Sept. 4 by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The groups argue that the legislation violates the Constitution's requirements that bills only cover one subject and that appropriations not be mixed with other legislation. They also allege that lawmakers' actions violate requirements that only topics listed in the governor's call for legislative action can be acted upon during a special session.

Lawmakers say they need flexibility to craft legislation to deal with the state's complex problems, including budget problems.

"What we're seeing here is an attack on the Legislature's very ability to appropriate," House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said of the league's lawsuit. "Policy is part of the budget. The two go hand in hand."

Though courts are reluctant to interfere in the legislative process, the state Supreme Court has weighed in on "structural" matters such as scope of line-item vetoes and delays in sending approved bills to governors, said Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender.

"They've shown some tendency to want to enforce those rules," he said.

A 2003 ruling by the Supreme Court on legislative leaders' challenge to line-item vetoes by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano revealed that the justices felt the Legislature had stuffed too much in budget bills in question.

The five justices _ three of whom are still on the court _ unanimously decided the case by ruling that the legislators weren't legally empowered to challenge the line-item vetoes.

But that was after the justices said the Legislature apparently hadn't complied with the Constitution's "single subject" requirement that legislation address separate subjects in separate bills.

The AEA's lawsuit targets provisions dealing with teacher pay, seniority rights, layoff notices and union activities, and union President John Wright said including those provisions in a big budget bill during a special session meant they escaped public scrutiny before becoming law.

"This type of policy enactment, essentially done at night and under cover, was done without any public discussion, without anybody on the legislative side stating their case for these policies and for anyone on the other side of the discussion to say why these policies weren't a good idea," Wright said. "If it comes up again, we'll welcome the debate. We didn't get to have the debate the first time."

The cities and towns league challenged provisions imposing new limits on development impact fees and building code changes. The municipalities also challenged prohibitions on providing public services and benefits to illegal immigrants.

The bankers' lawsuit challenged the repeal of a law the industry had sought to trim protections from post-foreclosure lawsuits against borrowers.

The Supreme Court has discretion on whether to rule on the groups' special-action petitions filed directly with the high court, but Bender, the law professor, said the justices may be willing to take on the constitutional issues.

Legal grounds for the bankers' lawsuit, which was filed in October, were undercut, if not erased, Monday when the Legislature re-approved its repeal of previous changes to the post-foreclosure law.

That latest action was taken during a special session. Its call specifically included the topic among subjects for legislative action.