AP Photo/Bob Christie, File In this Jan. 7, 2020, file photo, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich speaks at a news conference in Phoenix.
AP Photo/Bob Christie, File

 “I believe that the City vaccine policy is an important and necessary step to protect our staff and the community.”

After Arizona’s second-largest city attempted to require vaccines for all of its employees, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is calling the move illegal.

Last month, the Tucson City Council voted to make vaccines a requirement for all city employees. Employees who did not get vaccinated or request a religious or medical exemption by a deadline would face suspension.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Tuesday that the city’s vaccine requirements violated state law, and that city officials must amend them or lose millions of dollars in state funding.

“…Tucson’s vaccine mandate is illegal, and the city could be held liable for attempting to force employees to take it against their beliefs,” Brnovich wrote. “COVID-19 vaccinations should be a choice, not a government mandate.”

Earlier this year, the Arizona Legislature passed a law prohibiting local governments and public universities from requiring proof of vaccination.

Tucson’s public employees could therefore refuse the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate “in good faith,” Brnovich said.

In an opinion issued last month, Brnovich acknowledged that most of the prohibitions on vaccine requirements set out in Arizona law will not take effect until Sept. 29. Ducey also signed a law banning masks in Arizona public schools, but that law does not take effect until Sept. 29, according to a ruling from a Maricopa County judge.

Tucson Pauses Vaccine Requirements, ‘Reviewing Its Options’

On Tuesday, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the city was reviewing its options and called the Attorney General’s opinion “unfortunate,” but not surprising. 

“…the Attorney General is prioritizing his political ambitions over his responsibility to objectively interpret the law,” Romero wrote in a press release. “This report reads more as a campaign speech filled with political commentary rather than a fact-based legal opinion.”

Brnovich is currently running to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly for a US Senate seat.

Last month, 546 employees had requested an exemption from getting the vaccine before the city’s deadline, according to KGUN, Tucson’s ABC-affiliate station. The station reported that 76% of city employees had been vaccinated against COVID-19, well above the state’s overall rates of vaccination.

On Tuesday, Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin reiterated that the Arizona law cited by the Attorney General’s Office does not take effect until the end of this month. Rankin said the city was evaluating the implications of Brnovich’s opinion.

Until then, City Manager Michael Ortega said implementation of the vaccine requirements had been put on pause until the city had a better understanding of its legal position.

“I believe that the City vaccine policy is an important and necessary step to protect our staff and the community,” Ortega said.

But on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that all employers with more than 100 workers would need to require COVID vaccinations or weekly virus tests. The new requirements would affect as many as 100 million people, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Ducey called the announcement “the kind of big government overreach we have tried so hard to prevent in Arizona.” “The vaccine is and should be a choice,” he wrote. “We must and will push back.”