- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - One clear message Arizona lawmakers sent to mayors and other local officials during this year’s legislative session: The state is the boss.

Arizona joined Legislatures around the country in passing laws that punish municipalities and counties that try to diverge from state rules. During the session that ended May 7, Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature introduced more than a dozen bills aimed at usurping local authority.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey led the charge before session by calling on cities and towns to “put the brakes” on plans to raise the minimum wage or mandate other employment regulations such paid sick leave. Those proposals, he said, could drive the economy off a cliff.

Ducey and GOP lawmakers say a patchwork of laws places added burdens on businesses and taxpayers.

The opposition calls it ironic: Arizona Republican lawmakers scoff at the federal government for pre-empting state government while doing the same thing to cities and towns - especially those that lean liberal.

WHAT ARE ARIZONA’S NEW LAWS?

By the end of Arizona’s legislative session, Ducey had joined more than a dozen other governors in approving bills blocking cities and towns from regulating paid sick days and other employee benefits.

He also signed legislation prohibiting local governments from regulating plastic shopping bags, commercial breeders in pet stores, drones, and short-term rentals through websites like Airbnb and VRBO.

State lawmakers borrowed many of their ideas from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of conservative legislators and business backers that craft policies introduced in statehouses throughout the U.S.

Arizona’s new laws have teeth: Ducey also signed off on a plan to cut off cash to local governments that pass laws that conflict with state regulations.

The new laws take effect in August.

WHAT HAS LED TO THESE KINDS OF LAWS?

State legislation limiting the role of cities and towns is increasing around the U.S., said Brooks Rainwater, director of the center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Outside groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, are lobbying state lawmakers to craft more uniform laws or to oppose a particular law within a city.

Differences in political parties at state and local levels also can drive rifts in policy, Rainwater said.

“In cities, local politicians have to get things done and are more responsive to community wants and needs,” Rainwater said. “At the state level, it becomes much more esoteric at times, more focused on philosophical decisions than policy that needs to work right now.”

WHY DO ADVOCATES SUPPORT STATE LAWS OVER CITY ORDINANCES?

The Arizona Legislature has a history of fighting with the federal government when it tries to impose rules on the state.

But Senate President Any Biggs said that’s different from the Legislature imposing its will on cities and towns.

“The states created the federal Constitution - the states have sovereignty,” Biggs said. “Guess what the Arizona Constitution says: It creates the cities, town and counties. They are subdivisions. That’s the fundamental difference. We give them authority to act.”

Statewide regulations are designed to provide consistency and uniformity, Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said during an ALEC media call on the issue. Allowing every city to have its own laws complicates things for business owners, he said.

“You don’t want to be able to cross the street and have the situations where you come under a whole new set of rules, carry a whole new set of books,” DiCiccio said.

WHY DO OPPONENTS OPPOSE UNIFORM LAWS?

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns, which lobbies for 91 municipalities, argues that cities are the oldest form of government in the state and that the Arizona Constitution was designed to strike a balance between statewide concerns and matters of local control.

Democratic lawmakers say the new laws show an ideological divide.

Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, calls the surge in pre-emption efforts a power grab by the state’s conservative legislators.

“My colleagues on the right don’t like that cities or towns put forward policies that they don’t agree with and they see as harmful to the business communities.”

Mach said that although some laws should be applied across the state, cities should still be able to pass rules and ordinances that reflect their community values.

Republican efforts disproportionately affect progressive policies and, as a result, stifle innovation, she said.

Mach cited city smoking bans as an example of rules that first passed in cities and, after proving successful, were applied statewide.

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