A new proposal at the Arizona Legislature will take the state's fight with the feds to a whole new level: It would let the state actually nullify federal laws that legislators believe are invalid.
The measure crafted by Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, would set up a committee of 12 lawmakers to review federal laws and regulations to determine which are "outside the scope of the powers delegated by the people to the federal in the United States Constitution."
A majority vote that Congress or a federal agency exceeded its authority would trigger an automatic referral to the Legislature which would have 60 days to make a final decision. Ratification of the panel's recommendation would mean the state and its residents "shall not recognize or be obligated to live under the statute, mandate or executive order."
But Klein said SB 1433 is not challenging the fact that Arizona is part of the United States, at least not exactly.
"We're not seceding," she said. "We're looking at nullifying laws coming from the federal government that are mandates that are not constitutional."
The measure is just one of more than a dozen introduced this session to challenge or limit federal authority. Issues range from requiring federal agencies to register with local sheriffs before coming into a county to declaring the right of Arizonans to have guns, produce carbon dioxide and even create their own nuclear fuel free of federal regulation.
Klein acknowledged her idea, if adopted here and elsewhere, could result in each state deciding which federal laws are enforceable within their own limits. But she said that is necessary - especially given the current administration.
"We have in Washington a particularly overreaching administration as well as regulations that are coming out of agencies that are not even mandated from Congress," Klein said. "The states have a right to stand up to these kinds of onerous regulations."
The bottom line, Klein said, is states' rights.
"We have dual sovereignty," she said. "Our constitution is on par with the federal Constitution. But lately, there's been a creep over the last 20 years."
Klein said she's not presuming that Washington will simply accept Arizona's decision to nullify some of its laws and regulations, with any fight likely to wind up in court. But her measure says the only court ruling that Arizona will accept is that of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said Klein's legislation is based on a flawed premise that state constitutions and statutes are on par with federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
"The idea of nullification is to say that you can have a state statute or constitutional issue that then preempts everything above it," she said. "It just doesn't work that way."
Sinema said that doesn't mean Congress or the administration never oversteps its authority. But she said if the state has a problem with a specific law, the proper procedure is for the Legislature to vote to file suit on the specific issue and let the issue work its way through the courts, not to simply declare the federal law null and void.
"And the governor can file suit whenever she wants," Sinema said. "And she can do it on behalf of the state."
Klein agreed that anyone who believes a federal law or rule is illegal already has the right to challenge it in court. But she said that is a cumbersome process.
"Very few states and individuals actually stand up for their rights when it comes to federal mandates," she said. "We need to look at how the federal mandates are being thrust upon our states."
She specifically singled out "Obama-care," last year's national health care law, and its requirement for individuals to obtain insurance or face a fine. If nothing else, she said, that flies directly in the face of a measure Arizona voters approved just last year providing state constitutional protections against such requirements.
"So it's really incumbent upon us in the states to define and look at Article I, Section 8 of what the purview is of the federal government," Klein said. That section defines the powers of Congress, ranging from collecting taxes and defending the nation to regulating interstate commerce.
Not all of the mandates that have upset legislators have been unilateral. Klein agreed that Arizona is under certain obligations because it accepts federal money.
For example, Klein complained about the inability of Arizona to cut its Medicaid program. But the state could eliminate all mandates by not taking federal dollars, as was the case before the state joined the Medicaid system in 1982.
Klein said the answer for that would be for the federal government to simply give block grants to Arizona "and let us create our own rules."
Sinema said Klein is mistaken if she believes the nation's high court will side with states in their battles with the federal government.
She also said there is a real solution for Klein and others who don't like what's coming out of Washington.
"Elect new people to Congress," she said.