In June, Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that prohibits city and county officials from requiring employees to provide proof of vaccination as a condition for continued employment in city and council governments.
Despite this, the Tucson City Council – composed entirely of Democrats – passed an ordinance on Aug. 13 requiring city employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The city’s nearly 4,400 full-time and non-permanent employees had to provide proof of vaccination by Aug. 24.
Those who could not provide proof of vaccination would be subjected to disciplinary action, including possibly getting suspended for five days if they continued to refuse the vaccine. City employees were allowed to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds, as is required by federal law.
In response to this, Ducey issued an executive order reminding – and warning – the Tucson City Council to not proceed with its vaccine mandate.
Tucson’s vaccine mandate violated state directives
Ducey’s executive order was followed up by a statement released by Brnovich on Tuesday, Sept. 7. This statement said Tucson’s vaccine mandate was illegal because it violated both the law that Ducey signed and the executive order he issued after the fact.
The attorney general’s order for Tucson to rescind its vaccine mandate is the result of an investigation started by a complaint from Republican State Sen. Kelly Townsend. Arizona law allows legislators to request the attorney general to open an investigation on ordinances and other orders passed by local governments.
Brnovich warned Tucson officials that unless they rolled back the vaccine mandate, he would order the state treasurer to withhold the revenue the state would share with the city.
Local governments in Arizona are eligible to receive additional funding from the state. According to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, a municipal network of more than 90 incorporated towns and cities in the state, Tucson is slated to receive more than $175 million.
Katie Conner, spokesperson to the attorney general, announced Brnovich’s ruling during a video call with other state officials. She said what Tucson was trying to impose upon city workers was “offensive” considering that state legislators have “clearly spoken.”
In a statement following Brnovich’s ruling, Townsend said she was relieved. She was also elated that public employees in Arizona can use the attorney general’s ruling “to not only preserve their ability to make medical decisions for themselves without illegal coercion from the government, but that they have a stronger defense when seeking damages, if necessary.” (Related: Vaccine mandate in Ecuador province defeated by health freedom organization.)
Tucson officials responded negatively to state ruling
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, a Democrat, claimed without evidence that Brnovich’s ruling was politically motivated and not based on science. She also accused the attorney general of using Tucson to further his political ambitions. Brnovich is running to become the Republican Party’s candidate against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
“It is deeply unfortunate, but not surprising, that the attorney general is prioritizing his political ambitions over his responsibility to objectively interpret the law,” she said. “This report reads more as a campaign speech filled with political commentary rather than a fact-based legal opinion.”
Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega admitted that city officials were not sure whether the vaccine mandate was legal when they passed it. Ortega also ordered the city to comply with the state attorney general.
“Until we have a better understanding of our legal position in relation to today’s report, I have instructed staff to pause on the implementation of the policy,” he said in a statement following Brnovich’s ruling.
Other city officials are figuring out how to keep pushing the city’s vaccine mandate despite Brnovich’s ruling.
“We are evaluating the implications of the Attorney General’s opinion that the City’s vaccine requirement violates a statute that does not yet have legal effect,” said Mike Rankin, the city’s attorney, in a statement.
Senate Bill 1824, the bill Ducey signed that bans vaccine mandates, does not take effect until Sept. 29.
As of Aug. 24, around 354 full-time and non-permanent employees of the city are not fully vaccinated and have not asked for an exemption. Thanks to the intervention of Ducey and Brnovich, these 354 workers have been saved from being coerced into getting the experimental and deadly COVID-19 vaccines.