The state of Arizona believes local control is best – that is, until state leaders decide it isn’t. A few years ago, the legislature and governor decided that cities shouldn’t be able to make their own rules for private citizens and businesses, knocking down local ordinances that banned plastic bags, raised the minimum wage and regulated vacation home rentals. It was a slap at the notion that the best form of government is that which is closest to the people – an interesting perspective considering the state has used that very argument to whine about federal overreach.
The law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2016 allowed the state attorney general to investigate local ordinances that deviate from state law. Locally, Havasu’s own attempt at regulating its burgeoning vacation home rental market was stopped in its tracks. If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the state’s intrusion didn’t go so well, forcing the governor to admit this year that the law was used in unintended and disruptive ways that prompted real estate speculators to buy up homes in tourist destinations like Havasu for the sole purpose of turning them into short-term rentals. Ducey has indicated he would welcome a second opportunity to rethink the impacts of that legislation, but the point is, state government isn’t all-knowing, and one-size-fits-all legislation can often become problematic in communities with different values and different interests.
All of this brings us to the issue of smoking and vaping. Last week, a state legislator announced he was seeking a formal opinion from the attorney general that local laws on smoking and vaping are illegal and unenforceable. Such a declaration would then allow lawmakers to file specific complaints against cities and towns that have enacted those laws, prompting the state to withhold half of the state aid each community gets and forcing local officials to choose between idealistic laws and the state funds their municipalities rely on. It’s a bully tactic, pure and simple. And yet, maybe not so simple.
Arizona does need less restrictive policies that allow cities and towns to create their own regulations as they see fit. Plastic bag bans, for instance, might be appropriate in some communities. Likewise, cities probably can be trusted to set their own minimum wages. The voters in towns that pass those kinds of laws can decide at the ballot box if they’re happy with the decisions their local representatives make for them, and the state never needs to become involved.
However, nobody wants to see the state end up as a patchwork of legislation on behavioral issues, with varying ages for vaping or smoking from one community to the next. One can assume that when marijuana is eventually legalized, local bans would be on the table in a number of communities. No, in these instances a one-size-fits-all law is probably necessary to avoid the chaos that blue laws can create.
It’s not always clear when state ordinances should trump local ones. But it is clear that legislators need to rethink that 2016 law and let cities create the rules and regulations they believe they need. On those occasions when an issue needs a broader approach, like the smoking or drinking age, state lawmakers can then use their power at the statehouse to create targeted legislation.
— Today’s News-Herald