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Arizona Senate panel OKs millions in extra CPS cash

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Legislature took its first step Tuesday toward providing $6.8 million to allow the state's child welfare agency to hire 192 new workers right away, a key part of Gov. Jan Brewer's effort to remake the agency.

But sharp questioning by Senate Appropriations Committee members showed Brewer isn't going to be allowed to overhaul the agency without strong oversight.

Members of the committee questioned her choice to head a remade Child Protective Services agency, now called the Division of Child Safety and Family Services, about how he intends to fill those positions, whether more outside oversight is needed and whether more problems are yet to be uncovered.

Brewer pulled CPS from the Department of Economic Security earlier this month in the wake of revelations about more than 6,500 uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports. The new agency's director, Charles Flanagan, said he too has been surprised at the problems he found within the agency.

``It has been shocking to me to see the things that happened that do not follow the law and do not follow policy,'' Flanagan said. ``And one of those things is the (uninvestigated) cases.''

An outspoken critic who has battled CPS as a foster parent, Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, called the problems that have disclosed at the agency ``the tip of the iceberg,''

``And I'm not comfortable giving (CPS) one more dime,'' he said.

Murphy also pressed for outside oversight of the agency, and Flanagan said that might be one of the recommendations he includes in a report he's now preparing.

Brewer asked for the extra money for this budget year in addition to a $74 million request for the budget year that starts July 1. That request will pay for a plan to remake Child Protective Services and beef up its resources to deal with growing caseloads and revelations that thousands of cases went uninvestigated.

The committee eventually approved the extra funding on an 8-0 vote. Senate Bill 1224 shifts $1.1 million in the current budget to the new agency and gives it another $5.7 million. The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration after a routine review.

Brewer also wants $4.2 million for emergency child placement in group homes and other settings and $5.4 million for family support services such as parenting skill training and foster-care recruitment this budget year.

Senate President Andy Biggs said those requests aren't likely to be taken up as extra funding.

``In discussions with the executive, this was deemed to be the most pressing issue,'' Biggs said. ``Some of the others might be able to be taken care of in the normal budget process.''

In other special funding approved Tuesday:

- The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was given nearly $1.4 million. The commission has been burning through cash defending Legislative and Congressional maps approved in 2012 from court challenges.

One of those cases, a challenge by the Legislature of the commission's right to draw state district maps, was argued in federal court last week. Another, brought by citizens including Biggs' wife, challenges the congressional maps. A full trial on that case was held last March by a three-judge panel, but the federal judges have yet to rule.

``Constitutionally we are bound, in my opinion, to pay their attorney's fees, whether we like it or not,'' Biggs said of Senate Bill 1220.

- A $100,000 special appropriation to hire private lawyers to fight subpoenas issued to current and former lawmakers about their communications concerning 2010's Senate Bill 1070 also was approved. Senate Bill 1159 will pay to fight requests for Legislative, personal and campaign correspondence from 21 House and Senate members who supported Arizona's tough immigration law. Biggs has called the subpoenas a fishing expedition by the American Civil Liberties Union designed to harass members who supported SB 1070.

Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, joined other committee Democrats in voting against the funding. ``I think a better way to handle this would be to repeal SB 1070 and then this lawsuit would go away,'' she said.

- The committee also agreed to advance Senate Bill 1221, which would authorize the Attorney General to defend against such subpoenas in the future.

Identical bills are making their way through the House, putting all four on the fast track to the governor's desk.

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