First complaint filed under new law on local control

PHOENIX — A Republican state senator wants Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate — and slap down — the city of Bisbee for what she claims is the decision to ignore a state law prohibiting local laws on plastic bags.

In a letter made public today, Gail Griffin of Hereford noted that lawmakers earlier this year reenacted a statute that specifically blocks any regulations, fees or deposits on bags, bottles, aluminum or other “auxiliary containers.’’ That law took effect this past Saturday.

More to the point, Griffin cited another statute, which also became effective the same day, requiring Brnovich to investigate any complaint by any lawmaker that a local government is violating any state law.

If Brnovich finds a violation, that law requires him to give the community 30 days to withdraw the regulation. And if the local government balks, the state treasurer is mandated to withhold that city or county’s state shared revenues, monies that can make up a substantial part of the local budget.

While this complaint is specific to Bisbee, the way it is handled and resolved is important.

This is the first complaint filed under that new law on local control. What happens could foretell what other cities and counties could face as lawmakers object to their local ordinances.

It also could result in litigation over how much power state lawmakers have over issues that cities -- and particularly charter cities like Bisbee -- contend are strictly of local concern.

This particular fight involves a Bisbee ordinance imposing a nickel-a-bag tax on disposable bags.

Retails get to keep 2 cents for the cost of the bags and administering the fee; the balance goes to a fund that can be used to provide reusable carryout bags and to promote conservation and recycling efforts.

Shortly after the law was first enacted in 2012, Bisbee City Attorney Britt Hanson wrote to Brnovich.

In that letter, Hanson cited several court rulings where judges have voided state laws that improperly interfere with the rights of charter cities, like Bisbee, to have final say on matters of local concern. He said the city’s bag ordinance fits within that category.

“One of the several purposes of Bisbee Ordinance O-13-14 was to eliminate the unsighly litter along Bisbee roads and elsewhere that resulted from plastic bags blown and caught on trees,’’ Hanson wrote. “Accordingly, the city regards the ordinance as in full force and effect.’’

And there’s something else: The Bisbee ordinance was enacted before even the 2015 law.

Griffin, in her letter to Brnovich, said she has been told that the city council and others operate from the position “that they are grandfathered and that the new law that took effect Aug. 6 does not apply to them.’’