Top Senate Republicans are weighing taking Gov. Janet Napolitano to court, saying she has illegally voided a state law through an administrative order.
Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor said Monday that Napolitano’s decision last week to ban certain “alternate-fuel” vehicles from car pool lanes contradicts existing statutes.
“This is a horrible precedent,” the Gilbert Republican said Monday. “We’re allowing the governor to basically ... overturn the Legislature.”
The 1997 law states that vehicles that can be powered by either gasoline or an alternative, such as propane or compressed natural gas, can use the car pool lanes at any hour. The law even allows access if the driver is the only occupant of the vehicle.
But Napolitano issued an order Friday to ban those vehicles from the state’s car pool lanes.
Napolitano’s order also aims to allow the owners of “hybrid” vehicles, which run on a combination of gas and electricity, to use those lanes if they meet certain fuel-efficiency standards.
Jeanine L’Ecuyer, the governor’s press aide, said the governor did nothing wrong because the state statute conflicts with federal restrictions on the use of car pool lanes.
L’Ecuyer conceded, though, that Napolitano has known of the apparent conflict for months and did not approach state lawmakers before making the decision.
Verschoor said the courts are going to get involved one way or the other.
At the very least, he said someone who owns one of these vehicles will get a ticket and challenge it in court, pointing to the statute still on the books.
“It hasn’t been repealed,” he said.
But Verschoor said the fastest way to a resolution might be to ask the state Supreme Court to overturn the governor’s order.
It wouldn’t be the first time: The Legislature last year challenged what some lawmakers contended was an unconstitutional use of the governor’s power of line-item veto.
The Supreme Court ruled to void Napolitano’s action last year.
Senate President Tim Bee agreed that the governor may have overstepped her authority by overriding a statute with an executive order.
Bee said staff attorneys are reviewing the issue and lawmakers “will have an appropriate response.”
Doug Nintzel, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, defended the governor’s action.
Nintzel said Napolitano’s willingness to oust the “bifuel’’ vehicles from the car pool lanes paved the way for the Federal Highway Administration to give permission for owners of hybrid vehicles to now use those lanes.