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Pima County supervisors plan to amend rules for businesses after some lawmakers push back
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Pima County supervisors plan to amend rules for businesses after some lawmakers push back

From the May's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: Ducey distributes one-fourth of state federal relief money to locals series

Suzanne Elefante, center, trains Breanna Jirschele how to use the register at Mama Louisa’s Italian restaurant, which is subject to the county’s health and safety regulations.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will amend a set of temporary health code regulations it passed this week after receiving pushback from leaders across the Tucson area and the state.

In an emergency meeting Wednesday, the board voted 3-2 to adopt the regulations for restaurants, pools, gyms and other facilities in order to protect employees and customers through the duration of the pandemic. The proclamation includes a variety of regulations for different businesses, such as occupancy limitations, protective-equipment requirements, social-distancing protocols, daily temperature checks and the public display of signage and cleaning logs.

“The goal of this effort is to assure the public that it is safe to resume dining, recreating, exercising and lodging in Pima County because the county, through its statutory duty to protect the public health, has established, in cooperation with the business community, a set of minimum standards that will help protect workers and the public from the transmission of COVID-19,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

The adoption of the regulations followed Gov. Doug Ducey’s announcement that Arizona’s stay-home order was going to be allowed to expire.

Now some are saying the county’s regulations are a violation of Ducey’s latest executive order, which forbids counties, cities and towns from making rules and regulations inconsistent with those issued by the governor.

State Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, and Reps. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, have asked Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate Pima County’s proclamation.

“With the curve of transmission flattened, it is time to lift the heavy hand of government,” said Finchem. “The governor’s latest executive order has precautions designed to protect patrons, while giving businesses the freedom to restart and rebuild their lives and the lives of their employees. The decision by three supervisors to ignore the governor’s clear directive not to exceed state standards is by definition a violation of law.”

The county was notified Friday by the Office of the Arizona Attorney General that an investigation would be conducted over the next 30 days.

Even so, Huckelberry maintained that supervisors vetted all of the adopted regulations with the county attorney and believe these standards fall well within the county’s statutory requirement to protect public health.

While Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winifield have both said they are supportive of the county’s protective measures as the state reopens, Sahuarita Mayor Tom Murphy and Marana Mayor Ed Honea have been outspoken opponents of the proclamation.

“We believe that the regulations passed by the county are an overreach and an extension of the governor’s order,” Honea said. “We’re not going to police it. I can tell you that if they try and come in and shut a restaurant down in my town, we’re really going to have a battle.”

Since the regulations were passed, the county also received both positive and negative reactions from the community and local business owners.

“We have received considerable feedback from some businesses and the public that the adopted measures don’t go far enough, that they’re too liberal and should be more restrictive while the pandemic is ongoing,” Huckelberry said.

“We have also heard from some businesses and some members of the public that they go too far, are impractical, or that we should let individual businesses decide what’s safe for their business operations during a pandemic.”

The Arizona Restaurant Association and the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild sent letters to the Board of Supervisors citing a number of concerns, including the requirement of employees to perform temperature checks and turn away any patrons who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.

Among other complaints, the organizations also took issue with the civil penalties associated with any violation of the regulations.

As a result of this feedback, Huckelberry has proposed a number of amendments to be discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

If the amendments are approved, restaurants would not be required to have call-ahead reservation systems, staff would no longer be required to determine if a prospective patron is ill with COVID-19 and the civil penalties associated with the violations would be rescinded.

Supervisor Steve Christy, who voted against the county’s proclamation, said he wanted to see the complete removal of what he called “burdensome regulations for suffering businesses.”

“I will continue to oppose the entire package.” he said. “These (amendments) are a good start, but not good enough. I am looking forward to the determination of the attorney general’s investigation.

Supervisor Ramón Valadez, who sent a letter to Ducey before adopting the regulations, maintained the importance of the regulations, pointing to the fact that COVID-19 is still present in Pima County and that the community must continue doing its part to prevent the spread.

“Frankly, this reeks of political games, while we at the county are trying to save lives,” Valadez said.

“We worked on these regulations with specific instructions to make sure they were crafted in a way that did not conflict with the governor’s orders. (Ducey) made it very clear that we cannot expect the dining experience to go back to what we’re used to. The only reason we’ve started to see a decline in cases is because of the steps we’ve taken as a community. But this is not over, and we need to continue.”

“With the curve of transmission
flattened, it is time to lift the
heavy hand of government.” State Rep. Mark Finchem, Oro Valley Republican

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at jdemers@tucson.com

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers

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