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Arizona AG: ‘Tucson’s vaccine mandate is illegal’

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Tucson must rescind or amend its COVID-19 vaccine policy or lose millions of dollars in state funding after Attorney General Mark Brnovich stated Tuesday that this policy is against Arizona law.

“Tucson’s vaccine mandate is illegal, and the city could be held liable for attempting to force employees to take it against their beliefs,” Brnovich said. “COVID-19 vaccinations should be a choice, not a government mandate.”

"Several hundred employees who are saying they want a religious or medical exemption some are claiming both. City manager is looking at all the requirements and he'll make the determination," Steve Kozachik Ward 6 Councilman said.

On July 15, Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order, prohibiting universities and community colleges from requiring masks, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, submitting COVID-19 vaccination documents and taking COVID-19 tests.

The governor then doubled down on restricting vaccine mandates in the Grand Canyon State by passing Senate Bill 1824 that prohibits local governments from establishing vaccine passports, mandating COVID-19 vaccinations and requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination status. This law officially goes into effect on Sept. 29.

After Ducey declared that Arizona will continue to not allow mask mandates in light of the Centers for Disease Control Prevention's recently updated recommendation for all residents to use masks while indoors, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero moved to require the use of masks at all city facilities on July 28.

In August, Romero and the Tucson City Council approved 6-1 a policy that required its employees to get vaccinated against the virus. The decision was made at the recommendation of City of Tucson Manager Michael Ortega after the city conducted a survey that suggested about 1,000 city employees are not vaccinated against the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ward 4 Councilmember Nikki Lee voting against the measure.

The new ordinance required City of Tucson employees to provide proof that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 24 or they could face a five-day suspension without pay. The city made exemptions for medical and religious reasons.

In response, Ducey issued an executive order Aug. 16 that says "any county, city, town or political subdivision official that implements a vaccine mandate contrary to the authorities outlined in this order, is in violation of A.R.S. 36-114 and 36-184 and such actions are punishable by a class 3 misdemeanor and subject to legal action by individuals for violation of their rights under Arizona law."

RELATED: Mayor Romero: Ducey’s new executive order ‘is legally meaningless,’ city vaccine policies remain in place

In Tuesday's announcement, Brnovich cited that the City of Tucson's Ordinance 11869 directly violates both the recently approved law and the governor's executive order. The attorney general said due to this, "the city cannot require public employees to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine."

The City of Tucson has 30 days to rescind the policy or it will lose its portion of state shared revenue until it comes into compliance, the attorney general said.

Soon after, city leaders released a statement voicing how they plan to proceed in response to the attorney general's legal report.

“It is deeply unfortunate, but not surprising, that the Attorney General is prioritizing his political ambitions over his responsibility to objectively interpret the law,” Romero said. “This report reads more as a campaign speech filled with political commentary rather than a fact-based legal opinion. We are currently reviewing our options, and Mayor and Council will need to provide direction as to how we proceed from here.”

In the statement, City Attorney Mike Rankin said as the law in question officially goes into effect Sept. 29, the city is "evaluating the implications of the Attorney General’s opinion that the City’s vaccine requirement violates a statute that does not yet have legal effect.” 

 “I believe that the City vaccine policy is an important and necessary step to protect our staff and the community,” said City Manager Michael Ortega. “Until we have a better understanding of our legal position in relation to today’s report, I have instructed staff to pause on the implementation of the policy.” 

To read, Attorney General Mark Brnovich's full statement, click here.

In August, the Tucson Police Officers Association also filed a temporary restraining order geared to delay the City of Tucson vaccine mandate. The judge denied the claim saying that the officer could submit medical exemptions to avoid receiving the vaccine and the policy would not cause "irreputable harm" as employees who get vaccinated past the deadline.

On Tuesday, Arizona Department of Health Services reported that 52.2 percent of Pima County residents are vaccinated.

To register for a vaccine appointment, visit podvaccine.azdhs.gov or azhealth.gov/findvaccine, or call 1-844-542-8201.

To learn more about the vaccination sites, visit azdhs.gov.

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Julia Leon

Julia is a Digital Content Producer for KVOA- News 4 Tucson. In 2018, she earned a bachelor’s of arts degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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