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If upheld, judge's decision on masks could change how Arizona Legislature legislates, expert says

Arizona capitol
Posted at 9:34 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 00:34:19-04

PHOENIX — A Maricopa County judge's ruling that struck down the state's ban on public schools from imposing mask mandates is being called the most consequential court decision impacting the Arizona Legislature in decades.

Monday's ruling not only prevents the state's ban from going into effect on Wednesday -- it will likely be appealed -- but could also change the way lawmakers legislate, potentially eliminating the ability to include policy decisions in the state's budget bills.

In the final days of the most recent legislative session, Republican state lawmakers attached additional bills to the state's budget -- policy decisions, including banning teachers from discussing critical race theory and banning school districts from mandating masks or COVID-19 vaccines -- to ensure there were enough votes to pass the budget.

Previously, lawmakers were having trouble agreeing and securing enough votes to pass a budget. Gov. Ducey even vetoed a number of bills and vowed not to sign future bills until a budget was passed, adding leverage to the equation.

Judge Katherine Cooper, citing the Arizona Constitution's guidance on title and subject matter requirements, struck down those provisions as unconstitutional, arguing that it violated the Legislature's single-subject rule, which means the budget bill can only deal with the budget and funding.

It's a common legislative maneuver to pass bills that failed during the regular session.

“It’s an earthquake when it comes to how legislation is passed and how laws are made,” said Stan Barnes, president of Copper State Consultants. Barnes is a Republican lobbyist and former state representative.

“The court decision is the most significant decision impacting the culture of the Arizona Legislature that I’ve seen in more than three decades of being involved with the Arizona House and Senate,” he said.

“If the ruling holds all the way to the State Supreme Court, then we’re going to get a new manner of doing business at the Arizona Legislature."

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has promised to appeal the judge's decision.

“It’s unfortunate that left-wing groups want to undermine the legislative process and indoctrinate our children with critical race theory and force vaccines on those who don’t want them. I will continue to stand for the rule of law and the people of Arizona," he said in a statement.

Barnes, like others, question, if not for the courts, who decided if lawmakers overreach or violated the constitution in the process? He thinks the ruling has a good chance of withstanding legal challenges.

Arizona teachers and education associations, who've long sparred with Gov. Ducey throughout the pandemic over whether or not districts and schools should be allowed to enact their own mask mandates, celebrated Monday's ruling as a victory.