Legislative Update

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Ben Giles from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us the latest news from the State Capitol in our weekly legislative update.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Senate president Andy Biggs is calling for an external audit of child protective services. Here with details on that and more in our weekly political update is Ben Giles of the "Arizona Capitol Times." Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

Ben Giles: Thank you.

Ted Simons: External audit of something that doesn't exist anymore. What is going on here?

Ben Giles: Biggs said all along, when it became clear of the 6,500+ uninvestigated cases by CPS, that he wants a fresh pair of eyes to look at the agency and look at the problems it's faced, not just in the past year, but he contends for the last 30 years. So that as the governor and the legislature move forward in this session in creating a new agency in place of CPS, they can actually fix the root cause of the problem, not just the latest problem that the agency has faced.

Ted Simons: Is this the nose to toes thing he has been talking about.

Ben Giles: Exactly. He wants a comprehensive audit, but not from someone within the state of Arizona. He wants to bring in an outside expert. Frankly there is a lack of trust that an internal audit, be it by someone within CPS or anything, anyone else within Arizona government won't have the same impact as an external audit would.

Ted Simons: And this is the -- an audit would include, I would imagine, recommended changes.

Ben Giles: Exactly. It would -- as Biggs is asking, it would also look at best practices in other states. So we can bring in some of what other states are doing to help protect their children. And incorporate it here. And his argument is that the governor and the legislature shouldn't be so swift to move forward to create a new agency until the root cause of the problems and until these recommendations from an expert consultant outside of Arizona are given to them.

Ted Simons: How much would this cost?

Ben Giles: He is asking for $250,000, a supplemental appropriation that would go into effect this fiscal year. And he is also asking that the department of administration wave its normal procurement procedure, normal bidding process so that this can happen as quickly as possible.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask you about a time table here. That along with the idea that he wants this, how badly does he want this? Enough to where he slows everything else down until he gets this?

Ben Giles: That was the concern of some democrats in a committee today, public safety -- or the public safety committee, I believe, where this bill actually passed in the Senate that president Biggs is this just an attempt to hinder or slow down the governor's efforts to pass what could be a tens of millions of dollar proposal to reshape CPS into this new division of child safety and family services. He insists, no, I'm not trying to hold up that process, but he does want this to help guide it and that begs the question, well, when can you have this outside audit done if the governor and her staff are planning on passing legislation to create a new CPS this session, perhaps by May or June?

Ted Simons: Indeed, if you are going this far, want the audit, recommendations, best practices, what if you get them and folks running the new agency, that's all right. We're doing it our way.

Ben Giles: That has been Biggs problem all along. Not going too far down the road fixing CPS one way when maybe that is not the best way. The bill did pass unanimously with democrat and republican support. There are some democrats who also think yes, we are not sure that we trust someone within Arizona to take a look at this problem with open eyes, with new eyes and say here is what we really need to change. So, I think across both party lines, there are people who are receptive to this idea. It's just a matter of can it fit in with the governor's time table? And will she be okay with it going forward as she tries to move swiftly to get the CPS issue resolved.

Ted Simons: We will see where that goes. What is going on with the superintendent of public instruction, apparently sending out robo calls inviting one and all to get out of public instructio. What is going on here?

Ben Giles: The superintendent was in a robo call that went out to I think about 15,000 people in Phoenix and Tucson. Essentially letting people know that there is this program in Arizona called empowerment scholarship accounts. It allows students who have special needs, students who are in foster care, or students at poor performing schools to get taxpayer dollars to go and find a new school, perhaps a private school, and to attend there, rather than the school where maybe they're getting a failing education.

Ted Simons: And this was -- this was a robo call that invited people to look at a Goldwater Institute?

Ben Giles: A web site run by the Goldwater Institute, which supports this program, but the problem is, and the uproar has been particularly with democrats who say why is the superintendent of public instruction, and they interpret that as the superintendent of public schools, pushing for students, Arizona students in public schools to instead go to private schools? He did issue an apology late this afternoon. Just saying, I'm sorry for anyone who was hurt by what I said, who thinks I don't appreciate what folks are doing in our public schools. But just yesterday, he told The Arizona Republic that I think that my job is to defend all of our students in public schools, not necessarily the schools themselves.

Ted Simons: Indeed, The Arizona Republic, I think -- channel broke this story.

Ben Giles: He did.

Ted Simons: Again, he is -- he is -- that was an interesting response, because you are the superintendent of public instruction. Yet he says that the private schools are part of that public instruction?

Ben Giles: He at least thinks that should be an option for students who maybe aren't getting the education that they need at a public school. This is a program that has been, and is continuing to be beefed up in the legislature. It's a favorite of some of the GOP lawmakers in the Senate and House. They expanded it slightly last year. I believe they're working on other measures now to expand it again. It is popular, but it is also immensely unpopular with a lot of democrats and public school teachers who see taxpayer dollars not going to them but to the private institutions.

Ted Simons: The Tom Horne campaign financing -- are we hearing anything other than the prosecution saying that you coordinated when you shouldn't have coordinated and then saying we didn't coordinate…

Ben Giles: Yeah, we had our reporter Jeremy Duda in there today, but from what I could tell from him tweeting in the courtroom, essentially the same flat-out denial that we have heard all along, that we heard before the Yavpai county attorney decided that no, we do think that you illegally coordinated with Kathleen Wynn's group and that Tom Horne you need to pay back those campaign funds that were used to make that coordination. And beyond that, there didn't seem to be too much said on the witness stand by either Tom Horne or Kathleen Wynn just that no, of course, we didn't do this. These conversations, these phone records that prosecutors have, those were just either personal conversations or -- in one instance, they were saying that they had a conversation about a real estate deal, not this campaign ad that came out late in the election that attacked Tom Horne's opponent.

Ted Simons: Very interesting. Both sides are adamant that there was -- one side says constant communication, no evidence of real estate was discussed. Other side saying absolutely no coordination, real estate and other -- all right. We will keep on top of that as well. Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Ben Giles: Thanks, Ted.

Ben Giles:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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