Lawmakers Sue Arizona on Behalf of Workers

     PHOENIX (CN) — The Arizona Legislature illegally repealed a voter-approved proposition that gave cities and counties the right to set minimum wages and benefits, dozens of elected officials and a labor union say in a lawsuit against the state.
     House Bill 2579 effectively repealed Proposition 202, which Arizona voters approved in 2006. Prop. 202 gave counties, cities and towns the power to “regulate minimum wages and benefits within its geographic boundaries.”
     Gov. Doug Ducey signed H.B. 2579 into law on May 11.
     But the Arizona Constitution requires a supermajority vote of three-fourths of both houses to repeal a voter initiative, and H.B. 2579 fell short of that, the plaintiffs say.
     H.B. 2579 declared that “regulation of employee benefits, including nonwage compensation, paid and unpaid leave and other absences, meal breaks and rest periods, is of statewide concern.”
The bill does not directly challenge local minimum wages, just “nonwage compensation.”
The plaintiffs say the bill is an illegal end run around Prop. 202, and the state constitution. Both its author, J.D. Mesnard of Chandler, and Gov. Ducey are Republicans.
     Twenty-two members of the Arizona House, 10 members of the state Senate, members of the Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff city councils and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 sued the state on Tuesday in Maricopa County Court. All three City Councils were working on employee benefits ordinances.
     The Arizona House approved H.B. 2579 on March 1 by 35-24 vote. The state Senate approved it on April 11 by 18-11 vote. After being amended in the Senate, the House approved it again on May 6 and Ducey signed it into law on May 11.
     That’s far short of the three-fourths vote required by the Arizona Constitution — the sections known as the Voter Protection Act and the Home-Rule Provision — the plaintiffs say.
     The plaintiff representatives and state senators all voted against H.B. 2579.
     They represent more than one-quarter of each chamber.
     The crude politics of the bill — owners v. workers — were evident in the debate.
     Mesnard said his bill was necessary to stop municipalities from regulating welfare benefits and vacation and sick pay.
     “Some cities and states are moving in that direction,” Mesnard said. “I hope we don’t. I think jobs will be lost as a result.”
     But state Sen. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe, pointed out during an April 5 committee meeting that H.B. 2579 violated Republicans’ professed belief in limited government.
     “I guess I’m not understanding why we are preoccupying ourselves with local matters,” Sherwood said. “Can you explain to me how making state government big government over the state municipalities is a good thing?”
     State Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the bill was consistent with Republican philosophy.
     “This is about limited government, entirely consistent with our philosophy,” Kavanagh said.
     State Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix and a plaintiff, said the Legislature should respect the cities.
     “We should trust our elected officials at the local level,” Hobbs said. “They have as much at stake for their city as we do here for the state.”
     Business groups lobbied for the law. “We need this clarity,” said Chianne Hewer, a lobbyist for the Arizona Restaurant Association, during a Feb. 10 meeting of the House Commerce Committee.
     “We are just identifying what the benefits are,” Hewer said. “There is a lot of confusion right now about what our language is.”
     Be that as it may, the plaintiffs say, the bill violates the state constitution, as amended by Prop. 202.
     “H.B. 2579 directly conflicts with Prop. 202 by removing local authority over benefits, including but not limited to employee paid sick leave benefits, even though the state’s voters authorized that local control when they approved Prop 202,” the complaint states.
     The law prevents the Tempe and Tucson city councils from adopting ordinances giving employees paid sick leave benefits “in excess of that guaranteed by the State,” the complaint states. It also explicitly violates the Hume-Rule Provision, which “gives charter cities certain rights and privileges in local matters to legislate free from interference by the legislature
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional, and an injunction against its enforcement. They are represented by Israel Torres and James Barton, with the Torres Law Group in Tempe.

%d bloggers like this: