Journalists’ Roundtable

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Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable," the legislative session officially ends but a special session on CPS is still ahead. The latest report on CPS leads to five supervisors and a DPS administrator losing their jobs. And Republican lawmakers get the green light to challenge Medicaid expansion. The "Journalists' Roundtable" is next on "Arizona Horizon."

Narrator: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening, welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" "Journalists' Roundtable." I'm Ted Simons. Joining us tonight, Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times," and Luige del Puerto from the "Arizona Capitol Times." The Legislature adjourned this week after a 101-day session that will likely be followed by a special session on child welfare services. We'll get to that in a second, Mary Jo. Did it end with a bang or a whimper?

Mary Jo Pitzl: More towards the whimper end of the intensity scale. It dragged out for a couple of hours pretty much because there was a dispute between the House and Senate over a bill that had the continuation dates for a bunch of state agencies. Hardly the kind of thing people will get all worked up about but that's what dragged things out.

Ted Simons: And what state agency in particular with the Historical Society?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think they were recommended for an eight or 10-year renewal on a sunset. The Senate knocked that down to two. There are a bunch of problems from an auditor general report, they are not getting with the program so we're going to give them a short leash, give them two years. That ran into a lot of opposition in the House. It had also held up final work on the continuation for a whole lot of other agencies. Everything's backed up and piled into this one bill and it became a standoff between the House and the Senate.

Ted Simons: A little fussing and fighting to the very end, huh?

Jeremy Duda: Yeah, I think the folks in the Senate or maybe both chambers were upset about the way all these agency continuations got rolled into one. A lot were for longer than the Senate wanted with the Historical Society thing, and generally a dozen or so agencies, most of them pretty mundane. A lot of people just kind of objected to the process, it violated the way they normally do things down there.

Luige del Puerto: I have yet to see the legislature, I've seen it once where we sunset an agency. This is something they fight over every single year. There are conservatives who feel that agencies should not last longer than eight years, which is the complete full term of a lawmaker. Others said, well, typically we've given them 10 years. They actively moved the 10-year sunset to eight years or even seven years. One or two cases five years or so.

Mary Jo Pitzl: The big heartburn over the Historical Society, the Senate of course was upset about them not meeting some of their goals outlined in previous reports. Supporters of the Historical Society said, in a two-year life span you want to us to rely on contributions. Who's going to give to an agency that may not be around after two years? That was the big fight.

Ted Simons: Who won the day?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Basically the House, they said we're not going to sine die if the Senate is not going to agree to this. Basically lots of mayhem happening while everybody else was wasting time waiting for them to come to an agreement. What was hoped to be a session that would end early evening ends at 1:46 in the morning.

Ted Simons: And now, how long before we get this special session on whatever succeeds CPS?

Jeremy Duda: They can rest for three weeks or so. Everyone's expecting to come back in mid-May, I think Andy Biggs told people not to make any vacation plans around then. They are waiting on the final draft legislation for this new CPS agency. It's a group that's been working on this for a while, there's a lot to work out. It's a pretty big project. As soon as it's done everyone will come back at that point.

Ted Simons: Speaker Biggs -- Speaker Tobin will still be speaker, correct? Or is he no longer speaker because the session is over? How does that work?

Luige del Puerto: I think he's still the speaker until he files his signatures basically to officially enter -- he has a committee for his congressional race. Until he has filed his nominating petition, he cancels as speaker. Of course he has the option of resigning or retiring, resigning right now so he can focus on his race. That's always an option for him.

Ted Simons: I was wondering, he gave a kind of farewell, I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, tried to do my best. In three weeks, hello again, I'm back.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Three weeks, four weeks, as Jeremy said, I think the expectation is they will have this special session on the new child welfare agency before Memorial Day, and the agency has to be in place before the start of the next budget year, which is July 1.

Ted Simons: Is everyone on the same page as far as what need to happen following the CPS situation?

Jeremy Duda: I don't know that everyone is. I think everyone's on the same page in agreeing that something has to be done. But whether or not they really need a lot more money, I think, is going to be something a lot of folks squabble over when the special session comes up. I think that'll probably be the biggest point of observation there.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think the funding and then also the question of, should the new legislation be sort of a sweeping framework without a lot of detail, or do you need a very detailed plan for how this agency should go forward. I think there are some opposing camps on that work group. They are working to get a consensus, they want come out with a report everybody on the work group can agree to. Whether you do a broad framework or a detailed plan there's a lot of ground to make up.

Luige del Puerto: They are creating a new agency, and it's going to be a very big agency. It's the successor to CPS. I think one of the problems is they are trying to figure out a way to settle on a mission for the agency. What exactly is it going to do? There are a few polls that deal with child welfare. One is to get kids out of the family and break them apart and put them into the child welfare system. The other route, if you will, is to try and do all these programs and keep the family together. I think they have to settle that. We'll see some of those debates as to whether we actually give for example the child welfare investigators police powers perhaps. That's come up. We'll probably see some of those being debated and discussed again in the special session.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And one of the big points is that about 80 to 85 percent of the cases that are reported to CPS are neglect cases. There's a question of how much criminal intent is there, and how much do you really need a police power, as opposed to supportive services that will help people overcome their problems and keep the families intact and the kids out of harm's way.

Jeremy Duda: And you've got to remember there's also a backlog of 12,000 cases at this point and that's gotten bigger over the last few months. Are you going to hire new people? How much more ability are you going give this new agency to cut down on this long-running backlog?

Ted Simons: I want to get to this DPS report here on CPS in just a second. The Governor vetoes a number of late signings here, overall throughout the session more vetoes than expected or about the standard issue?

Jeremy Duda: Probably about the standard issue. Her record is 32 or 29, but she's vetoed everything fun and interesting. [laughter]

Jeremy Duda: Four gun bills, surprising or maybe not so much after the last few years. The first couple of years in office she sponsored a lot of pro-gun legislation. Since then she's vetoed a lot of them. It's a good year to be a Mexican gray wolf this year. She vetoed legislation that called for the killing of Mexican gray wolves. She vetoed bills about the ride sharing services, Uber and Lyft.

Ted Simons: What is that all about?

Jeremy Duda: They are not like regular taxi services and they wanted to carve out in the law that didn't define them as such and the taxi operators of course had a big objection to this. This is touted as a very new, innovative service. One of the big complaints was they are not insured in the same way, they don't have the same regulations underlying drug testing for the drivers. Those right things that led the governor to veto those.

Ted Simons: They wanted to be classified as limos so everyone could booze it up?

Luige del Puerto: That's actually a different one.

Ted Simons: That's a different one?

Luige del Puerto: That's a different bill.

Mary Jo Pitzl: What are those little vehicles call that your pedal around?

Ted Simons: Basically one guy in the middle sort of driving, and they not rest of them get to paddle while they are drinking booze. And the governor said, I don't really think it's a good idea for these guys to be on this vehicle and then drinking in public. So the governor vetoed that, also. But the Uber/Lyft bill deals with those companies' ability to operate in Arizona. Basically the idea is that it's drivers like you and I, we can sign up with them, they could contract with us essentially. And then instead of calling a taxi or whatever, there's an application on your phone that you can do and get this service. You can ride-share with them. And it's much, much smaller fee than a taxicab. The Governor said you are going to be ferrying Arizonans so you have to have all these regulations taxis are under right now. For example, drug pre testing, random testing of drugs. And your insurance has to be at par with what the taxi companies already have right now.

Ted Simons: If you own a pedicab and you want to get into ride sharing, you're doubly out of luck.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes, yes.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And along with the vetoes, not too much of a surprise but she vetoed Speaker Tobin's bill that would have put a work requirement on AHCCCHS recipients and put a five-year lifetime cap on receiving benefits.

Ted Simons: Was that a surprise?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, it wasn't a surprise. The feds have indicated these kinds of limitations on Medicaid are not acceptable and you need federal approval of this. It was a poke at the Medicaid expansion she fought for, hard for, last year.

Jeremy Duda: AHCCCHS submits a waiver request annually, hey, will you let us do this. It was kind of making the point, but I think for Governor Brewer after last year's Medicaid fight, other people playing around in her sandbox there, I don't think she liked it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think his point's made. He's running for Congress. It might even help him, that the thing got vetoed.

Ted Simons: I tried and my best and there you go. Let's talk about this DPS report on CPS. Mary Jo, were there any real surprises in the CPS report?

Mary Jo Pitzl: No, not apparently. I think people are still trying to figure out why -- precisely why Sharon Sargent, who was deputy at DES, the parent agency, why she was terminated on the day that the report came out. There were links, in oversight at CPS, but we never could get a clear statement from the director as to why she was let go.

Ted Simons: We had five supervisors with CPS fired. The one administrator fired, Clarence Carter not implicated. We had Charles Flanagan on just the other night and he basically obviously was talking about someone who's a cabinet level person along with himself. He's saying that it is such a sick agency, and it is such a huge agency that it could be possible that all this is going on and the guy didn't even know about it.

Luige del Puerto: That's what the DPS report insinuated, that Clarence Carter didn't know this was going on. What happened was he had a number of CPS staffers who directly dealt with this issue, tried to find a way to deal with the backlog that Jeremy and Mary Jo mentioned earlier 10, 12,000 cases has not been investigated and came up with this idea. We'll just designate them as not investigated, problem solved. Well, problem not solved, this blew up. You're right, they were fired. Carter is still with DES. The big question now, with the framework for that legislation that would create this new agency that director Charles Flanagan will be heading, interestingly he's been following this for the "Arizona Capitol Times," noted that officer McKay who actually found out -- whose unit found out this was going on, had essentially gone over Carter's head directly to the governor and said, basically he became impatient. He had gone to Mr. Carter and said hey, there is a problem going on, this needs your urgent attention. And couldn't wait very long. When the governor said, this is what's going on, he went to the governor. Of course we found out about the crisis soon after.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think the big question that still swirls around this report, there wasn't anything new in the findings, how is the director of DES Clarence Carter, how does he get off on this, why is he not implicated? It appears they don't have any documentary evidence or emails sent to him. There is some testimony seen where some people seem to suggest he was knowledgeable about this. I must say, if the overall agency is so sick and dysfunctional, doesn't that raise questions about the leadership? But that's a question more for Governor Brewer and not for Charles Flanagan.

Ted Simons: I asked him the question because I had to, but you can't really speak to that, he could only speak to the CPS folks. Still and all, a lot of folks are wondering if it's that bad, shouldn't someone be held accountable.

Jeremy Duda: I know there are a lot of people who have for a long time felt like Clarence Carter, whether or not he knew or not, should take the fall for this. If he didn't know that's as much of an indictment almost as if he did. The problem is a lot of people have dealt with the DES system for a long time, people say DES is not really run by the director, it's run by cabal of deputy directors. Especially dealing with CPS, a complicated constant trouble spot. It's hard for the director to know what's going on all the time. That's one of the biggest reasons they are separating this off into a separate agency in the first place.

Luige del Puerto: What really struck me is the fact that those CPS staffers would come up with this idea of not investigated complaints, resorted to it because they were facing a huge backlog. To me, that's -- it starkly illustrates the problem with this agency. Which is also something that an earlier report by the governor's task force that looked into those cases, when they said, look this, agency is overworked, there are so many cases with very few staffers. It boils down to a certain extent, funding. We cut their funding and saw the cases rise. The number of complaints came up and now we have this crisis. I guess these two reports now basically say a problem with this agency that is it's overworked. There are too many cases with too few people working those cases.

Ted Simons: And as you've mentioned the backlog apparently was 9,000 or so, close to 10,000 when this Rogue group apparently of supervisors decided they were going do this and allegedly covered up their actions. It's now up to 12,000.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, I think when the whole not investigative process began it started in '09 and ran for a period of time. They had about cases that had not been assigned to anybody. It wasn't even a baglog. Backlog is when you've taken a look and haven't finished the work on it. These hadn't even been assigned. They just kept growing in magnitude. You know, it begs the questions about what's going on in Arizona? Why do we have so many reports of child abuse and neglect coming in to begin with? I know the work group is wrestling with how will those things be defined and handled going forward. But you've got to get rid of what's on the books now. You can't do it by putting an N/I on it, we know that. Seems like it's going take some money.

Luige del Puerto: That's why the children's action alliance has been pushing for a child care subsidy. There are cases of neglect and they presume these parents who wanted to go to work are forced to go to work but are compelled to leave children with maybe just a relative or maybe to nobody. Representative Brophy McGee, part of this working group that's now coming up with this new legislation had fought for I think $10 million in funding for child subsidy. She lost that fight there she told me a few days ago that issue of funding will come up again during this special session.

Ted Simons: That could be big in the special session, huh?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, definitely.

Jeremy Duda: Always.

Ted Simons: We'll get to the special session as soon as it hits the ground running. We've got keep moving as far as this week's activities are concerned. Let's talk about the Medicaid challenge that the lawmakers attempted this thing, and there was some curiosity start the court was concerned. They appealed it and the court said, go ahead, you've got standing. Standing meaning you are affected by the Medicaid expansion vote.

Jeremy Duda: Meaning they have the right to sue over this. The trial court judge basically ruled their suit over loss of political power, that's not enough to grant standing. Court of appeals said if this required a two thirds vote then you did suffer an injury because your vote didn't count for as much as it should. They also rejected the trial court ruling of the legislature gets to decide whether or not it needs a two thirds vote but they can decide that with a simple majority.

Ted Simons: I've been curious about that idea -- you need two thirds unless we decide you don't need it.

Luige del Puerto: That's what the trial court said. They said it's up to the legislature to decide whether something needs to trigger the prop mechanism that then requires a majority vote. The question now is -- Governor Brewer by the way said she will appeal this to the Supreme Court. But this gives an opening to Medicaid opponents, gives them something to hold on. They have been losing on this issue for quite some time.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I wanted to clarify, the trial court said the legislature can decide what's subject to a super majority vote and what isn't. The appeals court said uh-uh, it's the court's decision. They are kicking it back down to the trial court so the 36 lawmakers can make their arguments. Now comes Brewer saying, I'm going to the Supreme Court to short-cut this whole process and get this wrapped up. We've got some different time clocks ticking here.

Ted Simons: Does that mean from now on, if the appeals court is having this opinion, is it the definition of an assessment and a definition of a tax? Is that the bottom line here?

Luige del Puerto: The basis for the appeals court is whether the lawmakers that had sued had standing. They didn't go into the merits of the case yet. They didn't have the chance to go into more detail.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But that's what they will argue when they are back before Judge Cooper. But it's this hospital assessment that was approved last year to pay for the State's Medicaid expansion. If indeed that's a fee or a tax, then that needs a two thirds vote. At least last June they didn't have a two thirds vote.

Jeremy Duda: The Governor argues this is an assessment, not a tax, set by the AHCCCHS director and not the legislature, which means it's okay. Some oppose that. It's still a tax, you can't just change the name. There's a couple of conflicting parts of prop 108, it'll hinge on if the Supreme Court allows them to have standing this. Doesn't affect fees and assessments authorize by statute but with no amount in there set by a director. Another provision says it does affect the imposition of any new fees or new administratively set fee. Seems like it may very well cover that.

Ted Simons: So we're going in two different directions because of the proposition itself.

Jeremy Duda: Yes.

Ted Simons: What is going on with Senator Yi and the concept of a recall vote? This is dealing with a medical marijuana research project at the U. of A.?

Luige del Puerto: Right, the legislation would authorize basically state funding for the research that the University of Arizona had gotten permission from the feds to do, which is research on the affects of marijuana on a whole host of things, including for example PTSD. There is this group that is fighting for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Right now they are fighting for that funding for the U. of A, and when Senator Yi refused to hear that legislation in her committee they filed this recall. And of course when you're being labeled as anti-veteran and what have you, it doesn't really look good in your resume. The short answer that is Kim Yee's attorney tried to negotiate and did negotiate some sort of a settlement with the leader of the group that is spearheading this recall. And then the supposed agreement that is they are going revisit this issue next year and Senator Yi would be supportive of it. Of course now what happened was that the group said, well, our leader did it on his own and he is out. He's out, it goes back.

Ted Simons: So much for the idea of revisiting, we want this now.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Today an opponent emerged in Senator Yi's recall election, an army veteran named Justin Henry intends to file and run for that office. She's got it coming from a lot of different directions.

Ted Simons: That's a busy primary anyway, isn't it?

Jeremy Duda: Well, it is in the House, not so much for the Senate. The recall needs 18,000 signatures, extremely difficult to do in a few months. The deadline for getting them is August. It would be absurd to have a recall because you have a regular election. The point is to kind of get this idea before people that you can say that her opponents can claim Kimberly is anti-veteran, surprise, surprise --

Mary Jo Pitzl: And now a primary election against a veteran.

Ted Simons: Great stuff, good information. Thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll see how the drought's impact on California agriculture could benefit Arizona produce. And we'll look at the latest in vehicle communication and collision avoidance systems and what it means for your privacy, that's Monday on Arizona Horizon. Tuesday learn how planters are attracting visitors to art galleries. Thursday local musician Roger Cline talks about his music and his career. Friday it's another edition of the "Journalists' Roundtable." That is it for now, I am Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us, you have a great weekend.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Journalist, Arizona Republic; Luige del Puerto:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times; Jeremy Duda:Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times;

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