Ted Simons: A special legislative session to revamp on the state’s troubled child welfare and child safety began, today. Ben Giles of the "Arizona Capitol Times" was at the Capitol today, he's covering the story and brings us up to date. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Ben Giles: Thank you.
Ted Simons: What happened today? Not a lot, just a few minutes ago this afternoon they actually dropped the bill. They introduced the bills on the floor of the House and Senate. There are two in each chamber identical. One is a policy bill basically outlining state statute, this what is this new department of child safety, they would like to call it, will do to handle cases of child abuse and neglect. It also goes through about 100 other pages of state statute, just making conforming changes where we used to have Child Protective Services now we have to refer to it as the Department of Child Safety.
Ben Giles: I want to get to more of that in a second here, but the idea that not a whole heck of a lot happened, is that a surprise?
Ben Giles: Not exactly. I think this is the way lawmakers planned this week to go out. They wanted to take three days. It might be out of necessity, this special session was called just last Thursday. And even when it was being called then, we were being told that there's still work being done to create this new department. There are still numbers being crunched, there was still behind-the-scenes work to be done. You kind of need a day to tell the lawmakers who weren't intimately involved in this process of researching and creating this new agency for the last couple of months, you needed time to brief them and tell them what's happening.
Ted Simons: As far as the agency's responsibilities, as far as the idea of more caseworkers, more criminal investigators, even the idea of more transparency, much discussion on that stuff today at all?
Ben Giles: Not today at all, no. It was a gavel in, gavel out, and a plan to come back tomorrow in committees in the House and Senate where they will hear the two bills. There will be a chance for some public input but, more so, in the case of the Arizona legislature this will act kind of like a budget discussion where the bills go through quickly. We saw the budget this spring go through the Senate in a week, in three days' time when it was first introduced. You'll see a lot of debate in these committees. And eventually, Thursday, if all goes according to plan, more debate on the floor and final votes.
Ted Simons: I guess it sounds like action day starts tomorrow. As far as lawmakers taking the lead and conversely lawmakers maybe showing the most kept secrets, what are you seeing down there?
Ben Giles: The lawmakers out front on this are mostly the five who have been working in this CPS reform work group that's been meeting since February. Debbie McCune Davis, Taylor, McGee, Eddie Farnsworth, these are the lawmakers who have some specialty in this subject, working to help research and craft the bill. Now that it's in the legislature's hands, a lot of this will just come from leadership. Senate President Andy Biggs is the chief sponsor of the policy bill in the Senate. And you have Senator Don Shooter who heads the appropriations committee, as the sponsor of the appropriations bill, which if everything goes according to plan, would provide about $60 million in new funding to this agency.
Ted Simons: Relatively encouraging to see senate president sponsoring a bill --. People were kind of concerned about whether he was on board. Sounds like at least he’s got one foot on board, right?
Ben Giles: It’s a telltale sign that he –And he said it as much today to reporters, he's probably going to vote yes to this bill. You expect someone to vote yes for a bill they put their name on. We were told privately that he had sticker shock, as did Speaker Andy Tobin when they first saw how much the Governor was asking for. Jaws hitting the table when they saw the 60 million figures. Mostly people seem to be lining up this proposal. Everyone understands they just have this week to get in and get this done.
Ted Simons: There have to be some folks who for whatever reason are going vote no. Are you getting that impression at all?
Ben Giles: There is definitely some push-back from the budget hawks in the Republican Party whoare going to wander, why are we giving this agency more money when we've increased spending for child safety in Arizona by a quarter of a billion in the last six years. We're giving them more money, but yet problems like these 6,500 cases that crept up last fall, where you just had cases that were neglected, if those sort of problems are still happening that does give some lawmakers a leg to stand on when they say, “How is more moeney going to fix this?”
Ted Simons: As far as now more public input to the process, will the public have a chance to offer some input and offer their voices?
Ben Giles: Your one chance is tomorrow in these committee hearings. I believe it's in the health committees and House and Senate and Appropriations committee. Also in both chambers that’s where there’s going to be lengthy hearings on these bills. If you do want to have a say, other than picking up the phone and calling your lawmakers, you need to get down there and register to speak.
Ted Simons: And the idea of course is to get the special session over with, done with this week, don’t move it on into next week. Is there a reason they are trying to do this as soon as possible? Beside obviously, most of them think it’s a good thing to do but, pragmatically speaking.
Ben Giles: Summer vacations are having an impact on this, honestly. We were told that next week in June is going to be a week when there were a lot of lawmakers in town missing. This was the week that, after everybody got together and looked at their calendars, they determined on the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday basis we could have the most number of attendees of the 90 lawmakers at the capitol, so I think there is a bit of a rush that it gets done by Thursday or Friday and I think that's also why we didn't see a lot of action today. In some ways the legislature was caught with its pants down today trying to scramble get this bill finished on time to introduce on the floor.
Ted Simons: And as far as what you're expecting tomorrow, I know preventative services that have been a big issue. There are folks out there saying that you can throw as much money as you want at some child safety division. If you don't find ways to keep those kids from getting into that system there in the first place, it's all for naught. Is that going to be a major point of emphasis? Could that be a bit of a sticking point?
Ben Giles: I think it's a point of complaint from Democrats in the House and Senate. There's about, for example, $4 million in funding for child care subsidies for working poor families, but that's $6 million less than what child welfare groups were hoping for. But just because of the timing and the necessity, I think people see to start over, to move away from Child Protective Services and into this new department, even folks who aren't getting exactly what they asked for, or as much as they ask for, are still lining up for it. But you do have some lawmakers, I had senator Ed Albos tell me today he’s going to vote no because he doesn’t think there's enough of those preventative measures. He doesn't think that there's enough to outline in these bills to differentiate between how the agency handles cases of absue and neglect.
Ted Simons: All right. Well, we'll wait to see what happens tomorrow. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Ben Giles: Thank you.