PHOENIX — A top Republican lawmaker wants to allow people who own property in Arizona along the border with Mexico to build a wall without first getting any building permits.
House Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he fears overzealous local officials will block construction by erecting procedural barriers.
His proposal, House Bill 2084, would allow private border walls to go up without any requirement to comply with local building codes or safety inspection.
Petersen said it’s a question of balance.
“On the other side of the risk is dangerous drug cartels,” he said. “We have every crime that you could imagine coming across these borders. And people that live along these properties that don’t feel safe should have every right to protect themselves, including erecting a wall if they need to.”
The legislation has caught the attention of some county supervisors who question the need — or the advisability — of exempting private border wall construction from local regulation.
Yuma County Supervisor Tony Reyes called the proposal “pretty dumb.” He said he was concerned about “that liability issue about building something without a permit without anybody checking, making sure that the public is protected.”
The question, Reyes said, is what happens if the structure falls.
“This is not a property rights issue,” he said. “It’s a health and safety issue.”
Cochise County Supervisor Tom Borer said he sees no reason to grant a blanket exemption from regulations governing construction of barriers and fences just because they would be erected on private land near the border.
He questioned why the Legislature would intercede. “I would not support anything that took the county’s rights away to govern their own county,” Borer said.
And Supervisor Bruce Bracker of Santa Cruz County noted that the federal government is already busy building walls along the border. Petersen, however, said privately constructed segments will help fill the gaps where there is no federal funding.
Petersen said he is unconcerned about building safety. He said that those who do the actual construction will recognize that they remain financially liable if someone is injured due to improper construction or installation.
He acknowledged that, to date, no Arizona county or city has sought to block a landowner from building a wall along the border.
But he cited an incident last year in Sunland Park, New Mexico, near El Paso, where a privately funded group erected 1,500 feet of bollard-style fencing over the Memorial Day weekend along a tract of private property without first going through that city’s review process.
City officials issued a cease-and-desist order against We Build the Wall Inc., halting further construction.
The Texas Tribune reports the city ultimately issued permits for lighting and construction, along with a warning to have the company come into compliance with all city ordinances.
Petersen said his measure would protect Arizona landowners from similar delays. “It’s something we want to prevent from happening,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t think cities will do something like this.”
“It’s a great property rights bill,” he said of his proposal.
He said there is evidence of hostility to border security issues in Arizona, and specifically cited the initiative effort last year to have Tucson declared a “sanctuary city.”
That proposal was rejected by Tucson voters. And Petersen acknowledged that, even if it had succeeded, Tucson is not adjacent to the border.
Bracker disputed the idea of enacting a state law here based on what happened elsewhere.
“That’s New Mexico, that’s not Arizona,” he said. “We haven’t had any issue in Arizona yet we’re trying to put legislation into place. That just doesn’t make any sense.”
Beyond the issues raised about Petersen’s bill, Bracker questioned the whole premise for more border barriers built by anyone, including the federal government.
“The focus should really be on trade and commerce and tourism,” he said. “They should be putting the billions of dollars into ports of entry.”
Tom Belshe, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said his legal staff is still reviewing Peterson’s proposal. But, in general, he said, cities oppose any efforts by lawmakers to preempt local control.