The city of Tuscon has paused a mandate that ordered employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine or face five days of suspension and other discipline.
Arizona’s attorney general said Tuesday that the mandate, imposed last month, was illegal because it violated an executive order that Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled earlier this year, in addition to a state law that is set to go into effect later this month.
Mark Brnovich, the attorney general, warned Tuscon officials that unless the mandate was rescinded, he would proceed with directing the state treasurer to withhold the city’s portion of state shared revenue until officials halted the policy.
The revenue for the current fiscal year was estimated at more than $175 million by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.
Tuscon officials, in statements released by the city, decried the finding by Brnovich’s office but said they’ll pause the policy, at least for now.
Tuscon Mayor Regina Romero, a Democrat, claimed that Brnovich, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, “is prioritizing his political ambitions over his responsibility to objectively interpret the law.”
But Tuscon City Manager Michael Ortega admitted officials weren’t sure whether the mandate was legal.
“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.
Ducey, a Republican, issued an order in April banning so-called vaccine passports. The order prohibited state agencies, counties, cities, and towns from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter or receive a government service.
Tuscon officials, though, imposed their mandate on Aug. 13, ordering all employees to provide proof of vaccination by Aug. 24 or face discipline.
In response, Ducey on Aug. 16 said in a new order that state law does not allow a city, town, or county to impose vaccine mandates and said his previous order made clear such policies weren’t allowed.
Arizona Republicans this year passed Senate Bill 1824, which prohibits vaccine mandates, but the law does not take effect until Sept. 29.
Ducey’s order, though, took effect immediately and expressly says that cities cannot implement a vaccine requirement in violation of the bill, the investigation report from Brnovich’s office noted.
Tuscon officials in their response ignored the finding that their mandate violated Ducey’s order, instead focusing on how the law has not gone into effect.
“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 attorney.
Brnovich’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
His investigation was triggered by a complaint filed by state Sen. Kelly Townsend, a Republican.
In a statement after the mandate was deemed illegal, Townsend described herself as relieved, adding that public employees “have further grounds 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.”