Special Legislative Session

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Get an update on the special legislative session on day two of three scheduled days with Capitol Media Services reporter Howard Fischer.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: It's day two of a special legislative session to overhaul Arizona's much maligned child safety system. Here with an update is Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Good to have you here. I know you've been down there for all of this, which should wrap up tomorrow. Anything big happen today?

Howard Fischer: The senate did give final approval, which was surprising. We thought they'd wait until Thursday. There was some debate over issues on both sides of the equation. On one hand you had people like Kelly ward and Andy Biggs who wanted what they call benchmarks. They're pointing out that the bill asks for 59 million and change, for an agency that's already starting the year with 760 million, and they said, look, we want two things. Number one, we want to make sure by October 1st you've hired those caseworkers you say you're going hire, and you said you can do that, and number two, what's your plan for getting rid of this backlog, this 14,700 case, just have the plan. And present it to us. And of course the governor's office has said no, no, we can't have any strings attached to this at all. And even a lot of people I think who support the idea of the benchmark said, do we really want a gubernatorial veto.

Ted Simons: So the benchmarks are adios.

Howard Fischer: Correct. However, despite all the talk this was supposed to be as negotiated, senator Taylor managed to add $3 million. A million dollars for more subsidized child care on top of the 4 million in the bill, a million dollars for grandparent subsidies for the grandparents who agree to take the kids that are taken out of the home and a million dollars for support services. Now, the governor's office, when I called them on that said, well, it wasn't part of the plan but the governor believes in preventive services so that's OK.

Ted Simons: So there are strings and there are strings.

Howard Fischer: There are strings, and you know, our strings are better than your strings.

Ted Simons: And those strings, I understand Chester Crandall, interesting fellow at the legislature, in a variety of ways, brought up an interesting topic regarding money and the agency.

Howard Fischer: Well, Chester is very good at looking at data. And he said, look. I'm looking at caseloads going back 10 years. We had a drop in 2009 of number of reports of abuse and neglect. All of a sudden we're adding more money, now we have an increase. So tell me, you know, Mr. Arnold, the governor's budget director, tell me why we should belief that adding another 60 million now is going to help matters. John Arnold said, well, you know, I don't know. He said, look. Normally you go into recession, you have an increase in abuse and neglect. We didn't have that this time. Other states are not seeing the increase we've had. So why? He said, tell you what. Give us money for a new data system and we'll be able to tell you two years down the road why these things connect. So it left I think a lot of lawmakers frustrated that we're being asked to put million in on faith.

Ted Simons: Basically, as an overview here, do we know what first of all what's it called? Do we have a new title for this agency?

Howard Fischer: The official title is now the department of child safety. Originally they were flirting with the child services family services, eventually it kind of came down to DCS sounds good. It also mirrors what other states do.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, what is the agency designed to do? What is the purpose of the agency? Is there a definition now, an overriding kind of a mission statement that everyone can kind of grab on to?

Howard Fischer: Well, in simplest forms, it is to protect children, keep children safe. Now, the question of what that means of course is in the eye of the beholder. I'll give you a perfect example. Senator Ableser is a family counselor. He wanted the definition changed to protect children from abuse and preserve the family. And the reason he wanted to emphasize abuse, he said, look, we've got this definition in existing law of what constitutes neglect. You don't provide children certain food, certain warmth or coolness as the case may be for the summer, you got some 22-year-old caseworker who thinks they've got a case here but they can't prove abuse so they say, oh it's neglect, take the child out. He actually got that amendment approved in committee and then folks said do, we want to monkey with that on the floor? So it got stripped out. But it goes to the issue we have talked about around this table now for 20 years. Which is that pendulum swinging back and forth. At the first sign of any problems do we take the child so we make sure we don't have a dead child and a Lori Roberts story, or is our aim to preserve the family, which is more of what Ableser wants? He said maybe sometimes do you the service and you don't have to take the child.

Ted Simons: Where is that pendulum? I realize now enforcement is a major issue here, and just out of curiosity, preventative measures, preventative services. Did that get much conversation today?

Howard Fischer: There is some money in there for prevention. Not as much as a lot of folks would want. They -- The supporters in the bill say, yeah, but there's a new division of prevention. Well, depending on how much money you've got. This comes down to the issue of subsidized child care. If you're a working parent, and you want to work, where do you leave your kid? If it going to cost you as much as you're making to do the child care, do you want to do that? So you end up with kids being left alone or in unsafe situations which is why the issue of more subsidized child care. But there is nowhere near the amount of money that's needed. You've got perhaps close to 30,000 parents who otherwise qualify under the statute, but because of the limited money, they're not getting it. So what are they doing with their kids?

Ted Simons: And back to the idea of the pendulum, it sounds as though from a distance it sounds as though getting those kids out is maybe -- We're back to that side as opposed to preserving the family.

Howard Fischer: I think there is a little bit of a move in that direction for a couple of reasons. Number one, as you point out, there isn't a lot of money for prevention in there, and number two, there's actually more emphasis on the abuse end of it and the criminal end of it that they want -- That if anything rises to a criminal level, they want people with police experience in there. Get the kid out, and prosecute the parents. Now, is this the last word? Will we be monkeying with this for years? Certainly.

Ted Simons: But as far as what's happening in this session, is this a done deal just waiting to be a done deal?

Howard Fischer: Pretty much. The house has got to take it up tomorrow, I'm assuming that there will be some floor amendments because lawmakers like to touch things and monkey with them. But I don't see any major changes here. Some of the changes put in today, for example, were minor. It requires, for example, DCS to work with the federal Indian child welfare laws and things like that. I think this is pretty much it and I think folks realize, look, put it together, let's go home, let's see how it works, and we'll be back in January or some of them will be back in January, to take a closer look.

Ted Simons: So senate wraps it up tomorrow with a third read, house should get its business done so they should be out this -- By tomorrow with a brand-new agency.

Howard Fischer: The brand-new agency. Now, technically speaking that agency may not start until July 1st. The other interesting thing is that Charles Flanigan, who was tapped by the governor, there has been no actual appointment made because the agency doesn't exist, and he will have to go through confirmation next year. So his you know what is going to be on the line if he doesn't perform.

Ted Simons: Speaking of you know whats on the line, any input at all from Clarence Carter at all?

Howard Fischer: Clarence Carter has sort of disappeared below the waves. The last time we actually asked the governor, so, is Clarence going to pay for this? And she said that's old history. I don't want to deal with it.

Ted Simons: All right.

Howard Fischer: He's still there, what's left of the department of economic security.

Ted Simons: I tell you what, we'll discuss this in even greater detail on Friday on "The Journalists' Round Table." Howie, good to have you here. And we'll get this thing wrapped up tomorrow and see if this doesn't address just this continuing problem.

Howard Fischer: We will be here discussing this next year too, Ted.

Ted Simons: Probably. Thanks, Howie.

Howard Fischer:Journalist, Capitol Media Services;

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