Lawyer defending Arizona responds to bid to undo limits on local virus efforts

Sep 4, 2021, 2:00 PM
PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 24:  A flag flies outside the Sandra Day O'Connor federal courthouse January ...
PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 24: A flag flies outside the Sandra Day O'Connor federal courthouse January 24, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of the January 8, shooting that killed six people and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in Tucson, Arizona, pleaded not guilty during a court hearing. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

PHOENIX (AP) — A lawyer defending the state of Arizona against a lawsuit challenging new laws that restrict local COVID-19 requirements argues that how those measures were written and their contents are questions for lawmakers, not for the courts.

The laws being challenged would prohibit public school districts from imposing mask requirements, bar universities from requiring vaccinations for students and forbid communities from establishing vaccine passports for people to show they were vaccinated.

A coalition of educators, parents and advocates behind the challenge argued the legislation — which appeared in budget bills — had violated constitutional rules requiring laws to focus on only one subject and have their contents reflected in the title of the bills.

Based on this legal contention, the coalition was asking the judge to undo two laws unrelated to COVID-19 prevention efforts.

One law prohibits the use of state money for teachings at schools that infer that one race is inherently racist, should be discriminated against or feel guilty because of their race. Another law establishes a legislative committee to review the findings of the state Senate review of the November 2020 election results in Maricopa County.

In a filing on Thursday, attorney Patrick Irvine, who is representing the state, said whether a budget bill or a part of one are related to budgeting or tied to an appropriations bill “have never been subject to judicial challenge because those issues are the exclusive prerogative of the Legislature.”

The state argues the coalition lacks legal standing to challenge a law that, among other things, bars communities from enacting COVID-19 restrictions that affect businesses, schools and churches. Irvine argued members of the coalition can’t show they were harmed by the law.

Irvine also argues the challenged provisions are constitutional.

At least 29 public school districts in Arizona have enacted their own mask requirements. The districts account for more than 334,000 students and nearly 500 schools. Most are located in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, though a district in Douglas and another in Miami also now require masks. About 930,000 students attend the more than 2,000 schools run by public districts in Arizona.

In mid-August, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge concluded the law barring mask mandates at public schools didn’t take effect until Sept. 29.

A hearing in the legal challenge is scheduled for Sept. 13.

On Friday, Arizona officials reported Arizona is reporting 3,802 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 80 deaths.

In all, Arizona has reported more than 1,023,900 COVID-19 cases and 18,959 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.

Public health experts and leaders of major hospital systems fear the upcoming Labor Day weekend could further drive up virus surges with people wanting to get together in large groups.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director has advised that unvaccinated people should not travel during the holiday weekend.

In Arizona, more than 4 million people — or 56.2% of the eligible population — have gotten at least one vaccine dose. More than 3.5 million people are fully vaccinated.

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Lawyer defending Arizona responds to bid to undo limits on local virus efforts