PHOENIX — State senators took the first steps Wednesday toward making county sheriffs a protective buffer between federal agencies and Arizona residents and businesses.
The legislation, approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety, would require any federal agency that does business in any county first register with the local sheriff. The sheriff could charge a registration fee.
But the real heart of SB 1093 would require any federal agency seeking to inspect any home or business, or inspect any records, to first present the sheriff with a court-approved warrant.
Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, the bill’s author, said failure of an agency to follow that procedure or produce a search warrant that has been reviewed by the sheriff would permit the individual or business to turn away the federal workers.
He conceded that anyone who does that runs a risk of being fined or shut down. And Crandell said he foresees a likely court fight with the federal government. But he said the legislation fits within the state’s constitutional rights.
“What this bill does is put the county sheriff in charge of protecting their people,” he said. The measure was approved on a 4-3 party-line vote.
The most immediate source of Crandell’s legislative wrath is the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. He said its inspectors just show up at any mining rock products operation they want, and “if you don’t let them in, you get fined,” he said
Crandell acknowledged that state agencies routinely conduct warrantless inspections all the time, including the state mine inspector and Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
“I have no problem with that,” he said. “But to allow the federal agency — the federal agency — to come in at whim and do whatever they want to, I think is wrong.”
Crandell’s measure is not limited to federal regulatory agencies. He said it also could apply to the Internal Revenue Service. For Crandell, the issue is states’ rights.
“I’m just trying to send a message: Don’t come into our state and assume you have control of everything that’s going on,” Crandell said.
But nothing in Crandell’s legislation gives state agencies either more power or more staff to regulate individuals or businesses now subject to federal scrutiny.
State Mine Inspector Joe Hart acknowledged that even if Crandell’s measure became law, he currently lacks the resources to do the number and kind of inspections performed by Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The bill, which still needs approval by the full Senate, may have another more practical problem: the provision allowing the local sheriff to impose a registration fee on federal agencies and the ability to levy a fine against agencies that do not comply with the law, which Crandell expects to be challenged.