By BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) – The Arizona Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday in an appeal of a court ruling that found new laws prohibiting schools from requiring masks and a range of other measures were unconstitutional.
Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants the court to overturn this decision and allow the provisions of state budget legislation that have been blocked come into force. The High Court will hear 40 minutes of argument at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper issued a ruling on September 27 blocking the ban on school masks and a host of other state budget provisions from coming into effect on September 29. She sided with education groups who had argued that the bills were packed with elements of unrelated policy to the budget and violated the state constitution’s requirement that the topics be linked. and expressed in the title of bills.
Cooper’s decision paved the way for K-12 public schools to continue requiring students to wear face masks to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. At least 29 of the state’s public school districts issued mask warrants before the laws came into effect, and some immediately extended them after Cooper’s decision.
Arizona cities and counties have also been able to enact mask requirements and other COVID-19 rules that have reportedly been blocked by budget bills.
Republican opponents of school mask requirements and local COVID-19 restrictions were powerless to immediately pass new versions of the laws. It was because of a string of GOP vacancies in the tightly divided Arizona House that prevented them from mustering a majority without Democratic backing.
Cooper’s sweeping move also hit non-virus provisions that slipped into the state budget and an entire budget measure that had served as the vehicle for a conservative policy wishlist. They included a required investigation into social media companies and the removal of the Democratic Secretary of State from her duty to defend election laws.
The state raises many of the same arguments in its appeal that were rejected by Cooper. They include that education groups do not have the right to sue and that if the High Court agrees with the trial judge that the legislation violated the title of the constitution and the single subject provisions, it should allow laws come into force and ensure that its decision only applies to going forward.
The state mainly tries to persuade judges that there are no constitutional faults. He argues that the topics they contained were all related and generally identified in the title of the bill.
Lawyers for the education advocacy group that sued, including the Arizona School Boards Association, said the lower court was right.
“The trial court relied on well-established precedents and correctly ruled that each of the challenged laws was passed in violation of the constitution,” lawyer Roopali Desai wrote in her brief to the court.
If the Supreme Court upholds Cooper’s decision, it will have far-reaching ramifications for the legislature. Republicans who control the Senate and House have long ignored the constitutional requirement that finance bills deal only with spending items. Lawmakers have filled them with political articles, and this year majority Republicans have been particularly aggressive.
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