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State questions ban on steroids for greyhounds

A high-ranking state administrator is asking the city of South Tucson to consider rescinding a 2008 voter initiative banning steroid injections for racing greyhounds.

Arizona Department of Racing Director Bill Walsh sent a memo to South Tucson two weeks ago asking the city to revisit the law.

Proponents of the measure said steroids harm female greyhounds and shorten their lives.

Former Tucson Greyhound Park CEO and General Manager Tom Taylor always contended injecting steroids into female greyhounds is safe when properly administered, and is an accepted form of birth control in the racing world.

Walsh said state law designates the Racing Department as the sole regulator of horse and dog racing in Arizona.

By implementing the measure, South Tucson subverted the department’s “power and authority to regulate the industry and the property on which the races are conducted,” Walsh wrote in the memo.

South Tucson City Manager Luis Gonzales said while the ultimate decision lies with the City Council, he’s inclined to agree with Walsh.

Gonzales said his years spent in the Legislature and as a gaming regulator lead him to believe state law trumps local ordinance.

“The concern for us is whether or not we have the ability to enforce it at the racetrack,” Gonzales said. “State law gave the Racing (Department) the ability to regulate racing issues … so it’s my personal opinion we do not have jurisdiction.”

Even though South Tucson’s attorney hasn’t issued an opinion yet, Gonzales said it’s unlikely the council will overturn the voter-approved ordinance when it discusses the topic at Wednesday’s meeting.

But the council might decide to amend the animal-control agreement with Pima County to eliminate the enforcement provision for injecting greyhounds with steroids at Tucson Greyhound Park, Gonzales said.

The council ultimately has to decide if the city statute infringes on state law.

“If we are, we shouldn’t be,” he said.

But not everyone agrees.

“I find it a little curious Walsh has taken this position and doesn’t cite any legal authority,” said Susan Via, a former U.S. attorney who helped write the 2008 initiative. “He just says, we regulate, so don’t enforce your law that was duly passed by the people of South Tucson.”

Via said countless examples abound where local ordinances are stricter than what state law provides.

Those laws are perfectly fine, Via said, unless the Legislature passes a law specifically to preempt a local ordinance as it has done with local Tucson gun ordinances over the years.

“If the state had done that with regards to dog racing, then (Walsh) would be correct that South Tucson couldn’t pass a statute, but that’s not what happened,” she said.

Both Tucson and Pima County passed laws over the past year similar to South Tucson’s ordinance.

It’s unknown if Walsh plans on asking those two municipalities if they will consider amending their laws as well.

But David Deibel, chief deputy city attorney, implied the city won’t change any of its ordinances based on bureaucratic decree.

“A person charged with violating it could allege that the state laws preempt the local law as a defense,” Deibel wrote in an email. “But a state regulatory official can’t simply overturn it.”

Chris Straub, chief civil deputy with the County Attorney’s Office, said whenever pre-emption arises, it’s typically relegated to the courts.

Walsh did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment.

Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik, who spearheaded the city measure, was perplexed by Walsh’s request.

“With all due respect to Mr. Walsh, but he’s suggesting that a bureaucrat in Phoenix has the administrative authority to overturn the vote of the people, and five years after the fact, at that,” Kozachik said. “I’m not sure I buy what he’s selling.”

Kozachik said Walsh’s request might contain more than just a desire to iron out some legal issues.

“Let’s understand that his agency gets their funding from the same industry that he’s saying he’ll monitor,” Kozachik said. “Sounds like the fox in the hen house to me.”

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

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