State senators took the first steps Wednesday to putting the county sheriff between federal agencies and Arizona residents and businesses.
The legislation approved by the Senate Committee on Public Safety would require any federal agency that does business in any county first register with the local sheriff. The sheriff could charge a registration fee.
The real heart of SB 1093 would require any federal agency seeking to inspect any home or business, or inspect any records, to first present the sheriff with a court-approved warrant. Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, who crafted the measure, said failure of an agency to follow that procedure or produce a search warrant that has been reviewed by the sheriff would permit the individual or business to turn away the federal workers.
He conceded there might be implications for anyone who does that, including a fine by the agency or even the risk of being shut down, and Crandell said he foresees a likely court fight with the federal government.
But he said the legislation fits within the state's constitutional rights.
“What this bill does is put the county sheriff in charge of protecting their people,” he said. And Crandell said he's prepared to fight this out in court.
No one testified in support or opposition to the measure other than Crandell. Instead, the committee's four Republicans voted for it, with the three Democrats in opposition.
The most immediate source of Crandell's legislative wrath is the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. He said its inspectors go into any mining rock products operation they want.
“They show up at the gate,” he said.
“If you don't let them in, you get fined,” Crandell continued. “And they go and do whatever they want to while they're on the premise, trying to find a penalty.”
Crandell acknowledged that state agencies routinely conduct warrantless inspections all the time. That includes not only the state mine inspector but the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
“I have no problem with that,” he said. “But to allow the federal agency — the FEDERAL agency — to come in at whim and do whatever they want to, I think is wrong.”
Crandell's measure is not limited to federal regulatory agencies. He said it also could apply to the Internal Revenue Service.
“If IRS shows up at your door and they want to audit you, they should be looking for something very specifically instead of just saying, ‘Oh, this is a random audit,’” he said. Crandell said his legislation even would apply if it's not the feds at the door but instead ordering a taxpayer to come to the IRS office for a review of tax returns.
For Crandell, the issue is states' rights.
“I'm just trying to send a message: Don't come in to our state and assume you have control of everything that's going on,” Crandell said. “This is industry within the state that should be regulated by the state, that should be taken care of by the state and not by the feds.”
But nothing in Crandell's legislation gives state agencies either more power or more staff to regulate individuals or businesses now subject to federal scrutiny.
State Mine Inspector Joe Hart acknowledged that even if Crandell's measure became law, he currently lacks the resources to do the number and kind of inspections performed by MSHA. But he said it does not have to be that way.
“If we kept all the royalties we give to the federal government for mining, we would have the money,” he said. Hard agreed those are royalties for mining on federal lands but said he believes that Washington should turn over those lands to the state anyway.
The legislation, which still needs approval by the full Senate, may have another more practical problem: The provision allowing the local sheriff to impose a registration fee on federal agencies and the ability to levy a fine against agencies that do not comply with the law.
“This thing will probably be challenged,” Crandell said. But he said he thinks all that is within the right of the state.
This isn't Crandell's first tiff with the feds. Last year he got colleagues to put a measure on the 2014 ballot to add a provision to the Arizona Constitution declaring it the supreme law of the land to which all government, state and federal is subject. It also would specifically allow the state to exercise its sovereign authority to prohibit the use of state and local personnel or resources “to enforce, administer or cooperate” with any specific, designated federal action or program.
Crandell said the measure simply reflects what already is the law of the land. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled the U.S. Constitution is a check on the power of the federal government and not on the power of the states.