- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona Senate panel on Wednesday voted to advance a proposal that would cut off money for cities or towns that enact gun-control laws, ban plastic bags at stores or impose any other rule that conflicts with state law.

The bill by Senate President Andy Biggs would punish cities and towns after an investigation by the attorney general. They would have 30 days to rescind the action or lose their state revenue.

The state sent nearly $1.1 billion from income and sales taxes to 91 cities and towns in the budget year that ended June 30. The sharing dates to a 1972 voter initiative that included a deal barring cities and towns from levying their own income taxes in exchange for the state sending them part of its revenue.

The Republican-dominated Arizona Legislature has taken a firm stance in recent years against cities that enact laws popular in liberal enclaves such as plastic-bag bans and rules governing energy efficiency in buildings. Gov. Doug Ducey intensified the fight in his state of the state speech this year when he called on lawmakers to revoke funding to the cities.

Opponents say it’s hypocritical for lawmakers to defiantly push back against federal rules but at the same time impose their own rules on cities. But Biggs says Senate Bill 1487 rightly penalizes municipalities that fail to enforce state law.

“There’s nobody in this room who if they disobey state law or the state Constitution would not be subject to punitive measures,” the Gilbert Republican told the Senate Government Committee. “In my many years down here, one thing that I’ve seen is that there’s a growing disrespect for state law.

“When we pass laws we intend for those to be obeyed,” he said.

Biggs citied cities that ignored state laws on guns, plastic bag bans and requirements for fire sprinklers in recent years.

But Ken Strobeck, with the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, says the state can already sue if cities violate the law. He says the proposal short-circuits that process by allowing one person to decide when the law is being broken.

“If a city or town is suspected of being in violation of state law there’s already a long-established process for addressing the issue,” Strobeck told the committee. “This bill violates the principals of due process and presumption of innocence and punished an entire city or town based on the finding of one individual. That’s not the way our system is supposed to work.”

The committee, which has four Republicans and three Democrats, was split along party lines and voted 4-3 to advance the bill. It now goes to the full Senate after a routine constitutional review.

“I think for us as a state to have such a heavy hand in this manner, it makes the local elected body irrelevant,” said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix. “And I think that’s unfortunate because that is the level of government where we are best represented because it is so closed to the community they represent.”

But Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said it was sad that the Legislature had to threaten to withhold state cash, but he believes the threat alone will prevent cities from acting illegally.

“I think the only thing that is worse than a government entity intentionally breaking the law is the government entity responsible for the enforcement of the law standing by on the sidelines dumbfounded doing nothing,” Kavanagh said. “And I think this is an excellent law because this law puts a penalty on lawbreaking and the penalty hits the pocket, which is a great motivator for government entities.”

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