Arizona court boots cities' challenge to budget

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2009 11:01 AM

The Arizona Supreme Court late Wednesday dismissed the League of Arizona Cities and Towns' constitutional challenge to budget law provisions on immigration enforcement and other topics.

The immigration enforcement provisions toughen and expand existing prohibitions on providing services to illegal immigrants. Other challenged provisions deal with development impact fees and building codes.

All were included in a bill approved during a summer special session largely devoted to the state's ongoing budget crisis.

The legislation took effect Nov. 24.

The league argued that enactment of the provisions was unconstitutional because they fell outside budget-related topics listed for special session action and because unrelated legislation was packaged in one bill.

The Supreme Court's brief order said the case, which had been filed directly with the high court, can be started over in a lower court.

The league "did not establish circumstances sufficient to render it proper for the original special action petition to be brought to this court," the order said.

A new case filed in trial court would have to pass through several layers of the state court system before any constitutional questions are resolved. That process would take at least several months and possibly a year or two.

The outright dismissal of the challenge was unexpected. It was decided during a private monthly conference of the justices on Tuesday.

The justices had indicated on an agenda that they planned only to consider the league's request for a stay blocking implementation of the provisions, pending a decision later on the constitutionality question.

The court had scheduled that consideration for the justices' January conference.

Ken Strobeck, the league's executive director, said officials were "shocked and disappointed" by the court's action and hadn't immediately decided whether to restart the case in trial court.

A similar constitutional challenge filed by the Arizona Education Association to another bill passed during the same session is also pending before the Supreme Court. That challenges provisions on schools and teachers.

The league said it objected to those parts of the immigration enforcement provisions that could subject municipalities and their employees to sanctions.

The provisions make it a misdemeanor for a state or local government employee to fail to report immigration law violations detected while administering a public benefit or service. They also allow anyone to sue the state or local governments to enforce the prohibitions.

Gov. Jan Brewer and several Republican legislative leaders had criticized the league for challenging the immigration enforcement provisions.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the league's position amounted to siding "with lawbreakers over law keepers."

Brewer said the challenge was "outrageous" because illegal immigrants shouldn't get public services at a time when the state is cutting back because of its budget crisis.

Strobeck denied that municipalities provide services to illegal immigrants and said the league's only concern was the possibility of lawsuits or criminal charges.