PHOENIX -- The Arizona Legislature on Thursday approved millions of dollars in extra funding that will allow the state's child welfare agency to hire 192 new workers right away, giving Gov. Jan Brewer cash she wanted as a down-payment on a revamping of the department.
The Senate and House of Representatives voted Thursday on identical bills authorizing $6.8 million in spending. The proposal shifts $1.1 million in the current budget and gives the agency another $5.7 million.
The proposal triggered some grumbling from members, with a handful of House Democrats noting that the proposal did nothing to fund prevention programs that have been cut in recent years. Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, said the ongoing problems at the agency seemed to be handled with a ``reshuffling of the chairs on the Titanic.''
House Speaker Andy Tobin objected.
``You don't ask the passengers to do that,'' Tobin said. ``We're the passengers here.''
The Senate approved the extra funding in Senate Bill 1224 on a 29-0 vote, and the House also approved the spending without a no vote.
Brewer pulled Child Protective Services from its parent agency on Jan. 13 and made it a stand-alone department reporting to her. The action was triggered by revelations that more than 6,500 child-abuse and neglect reports had intentionally not been investigated in recent years.
Brewer renamed the agency the Division of Child Safety and Family Services, and she named the head of the state's Juvenile Corrections department, Charles Flanagan, to lead the agency.
She asked for more than $15 million in extra money for this budget year, but the Legislature has put off giving her $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.
The extra funding is 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, an obsolete computer system and understaffing.
- Also winning approval Thursday was a $1.46 million request for the Independent Redistricting Commission, which is fighting lawsuits contesting Legislative and congressional maps it approved in 2012.
One of those cases, a challenge by the Republican-controlled Legislature of the commission's right to draw state district maps, was argued in federal court last week. Another, brought by citizens including by Senate President Andy 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. One Republican senator, Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, voted against the appropriation Thursday, and 18 Republicans in the House also voted against SB 1220.
- The Legislature also approved a $100,000 appropriation to fight subpoenas issued to current and former lawmakers about their communications concerning 2010's Senate Bill 1070. Tobin called the subpoenas ``an attack on the legislative process'' because they targeted communications lawmakers received and sent while doing their jobs. Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said an easier and cheaper way to deal with the subpoenas would be to repeal SB1070. That remark prompted the chamber to erupt into laughter.
Thursday's actions sent the bills to Gov. Jan Brewer for her signature.
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