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Groups appeal ruling that Arizona legislators can disregard Open Meeting Law

Groups appeal ruling that Arizona legislators can disregard Open Meeting Law

  • Updated

PHOENIX — A coalition of rights groups is trying to overturn a judge’s ruling that essentially says the Arizona Legislature is subject to the state’s Open Meeting Law only when it chooses to be, and people cannot sue over violations.

The Peoples Law Firm, representing the groups, wants the Arizona Court of Appeals to rule that the judge erred when he said it doesn’t matter if a quorum of any legislative committee attends meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council. That council, funded largely by corporate interests, serves as a clearinghouse of sorts for proposed changes in state laws across the nation.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish, in a seven-page ruling, said it appears to be legally irrelevant if a quorum attends, even if that includes enough people who then could formally approve a change in state law once they get back to the Capitol. He said that’s not for courts to decide.

Sandra Castro, an activist with the Puente Human Rights Movement, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, said that SB 1070, the historic 2010 Arizona law aimed at illegal immigration, came directly from a draft crafted at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting.

Parts of that law have since been struck down by federal courts. But there are provisions still intact, including a requirement for police, when reasonable, to check the immigration status of those they have stopped for any other reason.

An ALEC spokesman told Capitol Media Services SB 1070 was already adopted in Arizona before it became part of the ALEC agenda as a model for other states. Anyway, he said, ALEC no longer is involved in immigration issues.

Jamil Naser of the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance complained about ALEC’s role in crafting what became a 2016 state law that sought to deny public contracts to firms that refused to avow they would not boycott Israel or companies that do business there. That law was later struck down by a federal judge, though legislators subsequently adopted a slightly different version.

Other complaints centered around what the groups said is ALEC-inspired legislation to increase criminal penalties and to build more private prisons.

In filing suit against the Arizona Legislature, the plaintiffs asked Mikitish to declare that the meetings with a quorum violate the Open Meeting Law. They wanted him to enjoin similar attendance by lawmakers at ALEC meetings that do not comply with that law.

But the judge in his ruling said he can’t do that.

A provision of the Arizona Constitution says each chamber gets to “determine its own rules of procedure,” he said.

Beyond that, the judge said courts have to avoid what he said are political questions where there are no “judicially discoverable and manageable standards” for resolving the issue.

The appellate court has not set a date to consider the issue.

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