PHOENIX — Senate Republicans took the first steps Tuesday to having taxpayers pick up the legal tab for current and former lawmakers who are fighting subpoenas over their private emails related to immigration legislation.
On a party-line vote, the Appropriations Committee agreed to set aside up to $100,000 for what could be a fight over whether they have to give those documents to lawyers suing to overturn SB 1070.
Challengers to the 2010 law claim the measure is unconstitutional, at least in part because was motivated by racial bias. And they are hoping the emails prove their case.
Senate President Andy Biggs said the special funding in SB 1159 is necessary because of a loophole in the law.
In general, the Attorney General’s Office can provide legal help to current and former lawmakers when they are being sued. In this case, though, the lawsuit is against the state and the individual legislators are not even parties — other than the evidence that challengers think they can provide.
Biggs said it’s only fair to provide them with legal help.
Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar objected to what she sees as a blank check. Tovar, a Tolleson Democrat, said while the appropriation is capped at $100,000, lawmakers are not even being told how much an outside attorney will be paid per hour.
Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, had a more basic objection — and a less expensive alternative.
“If we hadn’t passed SB 1070, this bill, SB 1159, wouldn’t even be necessary,’’ she said. “I think that a better way to handle this would be to repeal SB 1070 and this lawsuit would go away.”
That 2010 legislation contained several provisions aimed at illegal immigration.
Several sections already have been voided by federal courts. But challengers are still fighting a provision that requires police to question those they have stopped about their immigration status if there is reason to believe they are in the country illegally.
There was no debate Tuesday, though, over a companion measure that would close the loophole and permit the attorney general to represent current and former legislators, even in cases where they are not actual defendants in a lawsuit. SB 1221 was approved without dissent.
Separately Tuesday, the same panel voted 7-1 to give an additional $1.46 million to the Independent Redistricting Commission, mostly for its legal costs.
While the commission finished its decennial chore of drawing up new congressional and legislative districts last year it now faces three separate challenges. One of them actually comes from the Republican legislative leaders themselves.
Biggs told colleagues refusing to fund the commission is likely a fruitless act. He said rejection of SB 1220 likely would result in a lawsuit against the Legislature by the commission which it has a voter-approved constitutional mandate to do its work and defend its maps.
All the measures now go to the full Senate.