Judge likely to rule on new Arizona law banning civilian police oversight is unconstitutional

PHOENIX (AP) — A judge told attorneys on Tuesday he would likely rule that a new Arizona law that bars a majority of civilians from serving on police oversight boards is unconstitutional.

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah said he was unlikely to strike down the entire state budget bill containing the police oversight provision challenged by the city of Phoenix.

The law went into effect Sept. 29 and prevents Phoenix from appointing a director for its new police oversight office. Phoenix is ​​also challenging a portion of the criminal justice funding bill that expands an existing law that allows a single lawmaker to request an attorney general’s investigation of city or county laws.

The city alleged that the Republican-controlled legislature violated provisions of the state constitution that require all bills to cover a single topic and that their titles reflect the contents of the bill. The contested parties were neither described in the title nor related to the subject of the criminal justice budget bill, the city said.

“The very likely outcome is that there will be something for everyone,” Hannah said. “I think the legislation violates the single subject rule, but I’m not inclined to strike down the entire bill, just the parts that the city has challenged.”

Hannah said a decision was imminent, possibly by the end of the day. His comments came at the start of a brief hearing in which he questioned lawyers about the details of handling a claim for attorneys’ fees.

The judge’s announcement of the expected ruling comes just a week before the Arizona Supreme Court is to hear arguments in an expedited case involving four other acts that were part of the 11-bill budget package passed by the state. Legislative Assembly in June.

Another judge blocked provisions in three of those budget bills because those items were not identified in the title of the bill and declared another completely void because it violated the constitution’s rule requiring bills only cover one subject. These rules were designed to prevent lawmakers from “logrolling” or compiling a hodgepodge of policy provisions into a single bill and to force lawmakers opposed to one party to support the bill while limiting knowledge or the public debate.

Judge Katherine Cooper’s Sept. 27 ruling prevented several parts of the budget package from taking effect as planned on Sept. 29, including a state ban on local school mask mandates and bans on other local restrictions. related to COVID-19.

The Arizona Supreme Court accepted the state’s direct appeal and will hear the case Nov. 2.

The legislature in the Hannah case is considering targeted civilian oversight offices and boards that Phoenix and other cities are creating to bolster police accountability.

Republican lawmakers acted after Phoenix created a new “Office of Accountability and Transparency” designed to be civilian-led to provide independent oversight of Phoenix police. The new order passed in May also created a civilian oversight board to review police actions and policies.

The city ordinance prohibited any current or former Phoenix police officer from serving as a bureau director or on the board of supervisors.

The legislature included provisions in the state budget’s criminal justice budget bill requiring that at least 2/3 of any oversight board be certified police officers working for the agency that he regulates. Phoenix argues that this completely strips the new office’s independence of accountability.

The city also challenged a provision of the same budget bill that allows any lawmaker to request an investigation by the Attorney General into “any written policy, written rule or regulation adopted by any agency, department or other entity of the county, town or city”.

The provision is an extension of an existing law known as SB1487 that penalizes local governments by withholding their state-shared revenues if they pass ordinance laws that conflict with state laws. Cities and counties derive much of their revenue from a share of sales and income taxes collected by the state.

“Regardless of its position on police oversight and SB 1487, these amendments deserved proper (and constitutional) consideration by our legislature,” according to the city’s complaint.

Burying them in a massive budget bill covering eight topics and 28 sections violated the state’s constitutional mandate that bills be debated and passed on their merits, wrote Phoenix attorney Jean-Jacques. Caboo.

State attorney Patrick Irvine told the court in his response that the city had no right to sue and that the matter was political in nature and did not belong in the courts. Irvine also said that the provisions rightly relate to “criminal justice” and a more detailed title is not necessary.

Judge Hannah summoned Irvine and Cabou to court on Tuesday to discuss how he can deal with the request for attorney fees in the case if he issues a ruling now that allows the parties to petition the Supreme Court to review his decision. The state and city agreed to let the issue of solicitors’ fees await resolution of the other case by the High Court.

If the Supreme Court upholds Cooper’s decision and Hannah’s expected decision, it will have profound ramifications for the GOP-controlled legislature.

Lawmakers have long ignored the constitutional requirement that budget bills deal only with spending items, instead of packing them with unrelated policy items. This year, the majority Republicans have been particularly aggressive, but that would no longer be possible.

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