So, how many lawmakers does it take to invite a lawsuit by the federal government over what kind of light bulbs are legal?
In this case, 33 — the number of state representatives who voted Wednesday to ignore a congressional mandate to phase out the sale of incandescent bulbs.
That 33-27 vote gave final House approval to the proposal by Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, to let Arizonans continue to manufacture and purchase the familiar bulbs with tungsten filaments after a ban that starts to take effect in four years. Antenori said it’s none of the federal government’s business to tell Arizonans what kind of bulbs they can purchase and use.
Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Tucson, suggested that the move makes no sense.
“We cannot preempt federal law,” he said.
But Antenori said that’s not necessarily true.
He said once Arizona enacts the law, that will precipitate a lawsuit between the federal government and the state. And he believes that a court will conclude that his legislation is beyond the reach of Congress.
That’s based on the wording: Incandescent bulbs would be legal if they are made in the state from materials available here, and not sold in any other state. Antenori said that makes it strictly a matter of states’ rights and not subject to the power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.
Campbell disagreed, saying all the measure would do is run up large legal fees for the state at a time when Arizona is unable to balance its budget.
All that presumes that Gov. Jan Brewer signs the measure into law.
Gubernatorial spokesman Paul Senseman said Brewer hasn’t taken a position on the bill.
But Benjamin Grumbles, her director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, already has poked fun at the measure. In a letter to the editor of The Arizona Republic, he cited the energy savings of the compact fluorescents that are likely to replace the incandescent bulbs as well as the reduction in greenhouse gases.
“Now’s the time to be putting and keeping affordable and practical tools on the table rather than taking them off,” Grumbles wrote.
Senseman sidestepped the question of whether the letter represents the position of the Brewer administration.
“He is a very senior member of the administration,” Senseman said. “He’s highly respected and regarded nationally.”
So is Brewer ready to get Arizona into a lawsuit with the federal government over light bulbs?
“The governor certainly isn’t looking to pursue any lawsuits,” Senseman said. But he said Brewer believes the federal government needs to pay more attention to what it mandates of states.
Antenori is aware of Grumbles’ position and is watching to see how that plays out with Brewer.
“If she wants to veto the bill, I dare her,” he said. But Antenori said he doubts she will do that.
“It’s a clear line in the sand from the federal government encroaching not just the state but our citizens’ right to decide what kind of light bulb they want to put in their light fixtures,” he said.
Before it gets to Brewer, though, the bill has to get through the Senate.
Antenori will get a chance to usher it through there personally. That’s because he has been named to fill the vacant Senate seat of Jonathan Paton, though he has yet to formally tender his resignation from the House.
Technically speaking, the federal law does not ban incandescent bulbs. Instead, it requires all light bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2014 than they are today; that rises to 70 percent by 2020.
But there is nothing commercially available today in an incandescent bulb that meets those standards.