House panel moves to curb agency authority over fees

By: - February 11, 2019 8:39 pm

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Republican lawmakers are responding to the recent uproar over a new $32 vehicle registration fee by seeking to limit the ability of state agencies to impose similar fees in the future.

Under Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s Senate Bill 1482, state agencies would only be able to increase fees in amounts corresponding with the consumer price index published by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Agencies that wanted to increase fees by more than the index could only do so with approval of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, a bipartisan group of legislators that is controlled by Republicans.

The Senate Government Committee approved the bill on a 4-3 party-line vote on Monday, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats opposing it.

SB 1482 is a direct response to the new vehicle registration fee, which passed last year after a handful of mostly rural Republicans joined the Democrats in pushing through a bill allowing the director of the Arizona Department of Transportation to set a fee that would fund the Arizona Department of Safety’s Highway Patrol division. Lawmakers were told that the fee would be $18, but it ended up at $32.

Mesnard, R-Chandler, said it’s the prerogative of the legislative branch to exercise control over such fee-setting authority. If the type of situation that the state saw with the vehicle registration is going to become the “new normal” – Mesnard conceded that he doesn’t know if that will be the case, but said many people feel that way – then the Legislature needs to set the “rules of the game.”

“This really allows us to have more oversight of those situations,” Mesnard said.

Of course, SB 1482 will need Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature. And that is a questionable proposition, given that it would limit the executive branch’s authority.

Ducey has already hinted that he’ll veto legislation to roll back the vehicle registration fee if it gets to his desk. Several lawmakers have introduced bills to undo the fee. The Senate recently passed one such bill, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s Senate Bill 1001.

Some Democrats have joined their Republican colleagues in criticizing the new fee, though none voted for SB 1482 in committee. Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said he’s open to voting for the bill on the Senate floor, but he would need to see improvements. Mendez questioned what would happen to fees that increase according to formulas set in statute.

Mesnard said he’s open to an amendment that would exempt such fees.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”