Bisbee attorney tells state it should mind its own business

PHOENIX – The Bisbee city attorney told Attorney General Mark Brnovich Tuesday that his community’s regulations on plastic bags are none of the state’s business.

In a sometimes sharply worded letter, Britt Hanson detailed the city’s problem with blowing bags and the eyesore and expense they caused prior to adoption of a 2013 ordinance. That law prohibits retailers from providing free single-use plastic bags to customers; paper bags from recycled material can be provided with retailers required to charge a nickel.

The result, he said, has been a cleaner community and lower costs for retailers.

Hanson said there was no reason for the Legislature to approve a 2016 law preempting local governments from regulating these bags. In fact, he took a slap at those lawmakers who voted for the law to overturn the Bisbee ordinance without ever having actually been to the community.

“Although the law prohibiting Bisbee from banning plastic bags declares that it is a matter of statewide concern, it doesn’t say what that concern is,” he told Brnovich. And without any legal basis, Hanson said that law cannot be used to force Bisbee to scrap its ordinance.

The letter sends the issue back to Brnovich who had gotten a complaint last month from Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, accusing the city of violating the preemption law he had pushed through the Legislature.

A separate 2016 law requires Brnovich to investigate any legislator’s complaint that any city ordinance runs afoul of state laws. If he determines a city is acting illegally, he must move to withhold that community’s state aid.

There was no immediate comment from the Attorney General’s Office to Hanson’s letter.

Brnovich recently got the Arizona Supreme Court to rule that state laws prohibiting city ordinances dealing with weapons overruled Tucson’s right to order the destruction of guns which had been seized by or surrendered to police.

But Hanson, in his letter to Brnovich, said the Bisbee ordinance is different. He said the only basis cited for Petersen’s preemption was language added to the bill claiming that small businesses are sensitive to costs of local regulation and that allowing cities to each have their own laws “hinders a small business from benefiting from free and open competition.”

Hanson sniffed at that excuse.

“You would be hard pressed in the legislative proceedings of either the House or Senate to find any testimony or alleged facts on which to base such findings,” he told Brnovich. And he said no lawmaker ever even asked about the Bisbee ordinance already in existence that they were moving to quash.

“If they had, they would have found that Bisbee’s retailers have embraced it,” Hanson said. He attached a letter from Pam Rodriguez, the owner of Acacia on Main Street, who said she is saving between $500 and $600 a year on bags.

And he said that Safeway, the city’s largest retailer, provided the language for the model ordinance on which Bisbee’s regulation is based.