The Daily Agenda: Ducey vs. Tucson drama continues
Tucson's plan to fire unvaccinated workers isn’t going over well … bathroom protesters could get charged … and that’s a self-driving car.
Ducey clapped back at Tucson yesterday after the Tucson City Council voted to fire city employees who refuse to get vaccinated, writing on Twitter that “it’s unfathomable that after a year as tough as last, the Tucson City Council voted to FIRE unvaccinated city employees.”
Before the mandate kicked in, Tucson had allowed employees to submit requests for waivers for medical reasons or based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and nearly 600 did.
But the city vetted those waivers, and found that many employees didn’t actually meet the qualifications of needing a medical waiver or holding religious beliefs that prevent them from getting jabbed.
There must be a whole lot of “jahova witnesses” in Tucson because the vast majority of mainstream religions encourage vaccinations. But of course, deciphering what is a strongly held belief is dicey territory, especially for a government body.
Roughly 300 Tucson employees are on the chopping block, or nearly 7% of the city workforce. About 180 of those 300 had requested a waiver and were denied, while the rest had ignored the new vaccine mandate as of the August deadline.
Complicating matters, those holdouts appear to be predominantly from the police and fire departments which interact with the public regularly and are politically powerful and essential departments.
(At least the fears that many healthcare workers would rather quit than get vaccinated don’t seem to be panning out, as the Republic’s Stephanie Innes noted. About 2% of TMC HealthCare’s staff quit or was fired, and only about 0.3% of Phoenix Children's Hospital’s staff quit or was fired after both implemented mandates.)
The state law banning cities from implementing vaccine mandates was put on hold as part of what we’re calling the Battle of the BRBs, but not every anti-vaccine-mandate provision of the budget has been stalled because of the court case.
Ducey’s lawyer Anni Foster zeroed in on a provision in the budget that says employers shall provide “a reasonable accommodation” to employees that notify them of sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from getting vaccinated, saying the law doesn’t allow the city or any employer to decide what qualifies.
“Unlike other laws in the employment context, this statute does not provide for an employer to question the employee’s ‘sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance’ prior to providing the accommodation from a COVID-19 vaccine,” she wrote.
In a letter to Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin, Foster said the mandate also violated Ducey’s latest executive order and warned that violating an executive order “carries a criminal penalty.”
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero was unfazed.
But let’s circle back to Ducey’s original statement about how it’s unfathomable that Tucson would fire vax-refusers after the year we’ve had.
A new Arizona Public Health Association study shows that COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in Arizona during the last 19 months of pandemic. That may sound like an obvious statement, but it’s actually not.
In other western states that took a harder line in fighting the virus, COVID-19 is a distant third place for leading cause of death.
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From bathroom to courtroom: Arizona State University Police recommended charges for four people who confronted U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in a university bathroom and questioned her over her opposition to the Biden Build Back Better Plan. The charges don’t relate to the state statute over secretly recording in bathrooms, which we’ve previously pointed out doesn’t really apply to this situation. Instead, an ASU Police spokesman told the Arizona Mirror’s Laura Gómez Rodriguez, the four people could be charged with misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and disrupting an educational institution. It’s up to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office whether to file the charges.
A small price to pay: Maricopa County will get $80 million after settling a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The state overall will get $550 million in the settlement. The money must be spent on opioid-related issues, like diversion programs or addiction resources, the Republic’s Stephanie Innes and BrieAnna Frank report.
Mappers still busy mapping: The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission might need to slow down and fix some issues with its legislative maps, the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda reports. They could lock in final draft maps today, or it could happen later. The deadline for draft maps is Oct. 27.
A continued refusal to take the L: Despite repeated court losses, the Arizona Senate is still fighting to shield records from the public. This time, the Senate’s attorney is arguing 720 documents should not be publicly released because they are protected by legislative privilege, reports Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer. Republic columnist Robert Robb writes that the concept of legislative privilege, in this instance and beyond, is confusing and muddled, and perhaps a higher court could sort that out to provide clarity.
Give the people what they don’t want: The people didn’t want digital billboards in Surprise, but they got billboards anyway, and now the people are mad about billboards, reports the Republic’s Taylor Seely.
No mandates needed: Despite a court ruling against a school mask mandate in the state budget, most Valley school districts haven’t clamored to make masks mandatory, instead keeping them optional. Schools with optional policies said mandates weren’t needed in their schools or didn’t have the school board votes to pass them, the Republic’s Yana Kunichoff reports.
Let’s do this again: A City of Phoenix subcommittee wants the city council to again study the possibility of extending the light rail into Maryvale. The study could cost almost $1 million and take two years to complete, KJZZ’s Christina Estes reports. A west Phoenix expansion was previously rejected in 2019.
An Estes two-fer: Phoenix Police are experiencing staffing problems, much like many private-sector businesses these days. This is leading to slower response times and reduced patrols. More officers are leaving than are being hired, Estes reported.
The state is really raking it in, the latest report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on the fiscal picture says. In total, the state general fund brought in $1.42 billion in September, more than 21% more than it did last September. And the September revenues were $299 million above the enacted budget’s forecast. That means next year’s legislative session will probably last forever: Lawmakers here have a harder time deciding how to spend money than they do cutting it.
We can tell you’re new in town: Tony Teora, a “volunteer campaign coordinator” for Q-not-Q congressional candidate Ron Watkins posted a video of a Waymo self-driving test car, saying it was “some kind of new monitoring car that’s been following us here in Arizona.” Let that sink in. A video posted by Arizona Mirror reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy, clearly shows a familiar sight to most Valley residents — a white car with a bunch of bells and whistles. The self-driving cars are all over now, especially in Chandler. And they’re not “affecting our internet” or surveilling some congressional also-ran; they’re learning our roads so the cars can safely drive on their own.
A subscriber snapped a pic of former Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally having lunch at True Food Kitchen at the Biltmore and said they overheard a snippet of her conversation: “Life is too short, man.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego is joining Pinnacle West CEO Jeffrey Guldner and Greater Phoenix Economic Council CEO Chris Camacho to discuss sustainability and climate change today at 1 p.m.
Legislative District 25 Democrats meet online tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Legislative District 23 Republican candidate Jan Dubauskas is having a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Trilogy Verde River at 17724 E Chevelon Canyon Circle in Rio Verde.