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City Of Tucson And Arizona Enter Into Legal Fight

Tucson City Council
(Photo by Jude Joffe-Block - KJZZ)
Tucson City Council

A longstanding battle for power between Arizona cities and the state legislature took another turn on Tuesday afternoon.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich used a new state law known as SB 1487 to initiate legal action against Tucson on Tuesday afternoon. He alleges a Tucson ordinance that requires certain forfeited guns to be destroyed rather than resold violates state law.

Just hours before the attorney general took action, Tucson’s city council refused to change its ordinance and instead vowed to counter sue Arizona over the constitutionality of SB 1487.

In recent years, tensions between Arizona’s most progressive cities and the conservative state Legislature have been heating up.

There have been several examples in recent years where state lawmakers have voted to preempt city policies with state bans, including legislation that shut down local efforts to ban plastic bags or tax Airbnb rentals.

SB 1487, which allows Arizona to withhold funds from cities that have policies that conflict with state law, was the state’s latest tool in this fight. Under the law, a state legislator can file a complaint with the attorney general if there is a perceived conflict between city and state policy.

Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican legislator from Oro Valley, filed such complaint In October against the Tucson ordinance.

Brnovich concluded the Tucson ordinance, which dates back to 2005, may be in violation of state laws, since an Arizona law bans destroying guns and another makes the regulation of guns a state matter. He warned the city to change its ordinance or risk legal action that could result in the state treasurer withholding shared revenue from the city.

Tucson argued that as a charter city it is allowed to make local decisions over how to handle property.

On Tuesday, the City Council decided to not back down, and voted to defend its policy in court, as well as bring its own lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 1487.

“We believe the law as it is written is patently unconstitutional,” Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told reporters. “We believe that it violates the actual Arizona Constitution, which gives charter cities certain rights.”

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.