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Senate GOP goes behind closed doors to discuss Brewer’s personnel reform

Republican senators were briefed today about major changes to the state’s personnel system that the governor is seeking.

The briefing took place behind closed doors.

Numerous sources, speaking on background because they’re not authorized to discuss the meeting, said the provisions Gov. Jan Brewer wants lawmakers to approve are not new.

Senate President Steve Pierce confirmed as much.

“The governor wanted to see some movement,” he said, adding, “It’s the same bill (as last year). I think there might be a tweak or two.”

Today’s briefing signaled the start of another push by Brewer to revamp the rules that govern the hiring and firing of state employees.

“It’s a big proposal. Many have questions,” said one legislative source.

Brewer earlier said this major undertaking will be among her priorities this session.

The governor’s proposal has yet to be introduced as a bill in the Legislature. Pierce thinks the proposal will be introduced in the House.

Brewer pushed for the legislation last year, but while Republicans were generally open to the idea of making it easier to hire and fire state workers, some balked at tackling such an important issue late in session.

An outline of last year’s proposal was obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times.

It would uncover employees from the state’s merit system, remove terms of office for agency heads, and alter the way employees may appeal disciplinary actions.

According to the summary, Brewer’s proposal contains a host of changes affecting state workers, starting with the merit protection that employees have enjoyed for decades.

Under the plan, new hires and supervisors would be uncovered, and current employees would have to forego merit protection in order to get a salary increase.

Employees who voluntarily accept new assignments will also be uncovered.

Meanwhile, state agencies would be prevented from considering seniority or tenure in the event of layoffs — known as “reductions in force” in government parlance. It would eliminate “take in” provisions that facilitate an employee’s transfer to a new agency, if they have taken over the duties of the employee’s original employing agency.

The proposal would also eliminate “terms of office” for heads of state agencies, essentially moving to a system where they serve at the pleasure of the governor.

That plan would also eliminate recruitment provisions that allow some agency heads be chosen through selection committees.

Last year’s proposal would also alter some operations of the State Personnel Board, which hears and reviews appeals filed by permanent employees who have been dismissed, suspended or demoted as a result of a disciplinary action.

Under the proposal, the board could no longer modify disciplinary actions on appeal, meaning they could only accept or reject a supervisor’s proposed penalty against an employee.

Under the plan, state employees would no longer be able to appeal disciplinary actions before a superior court on the grounds that they were arbitrary or capricious.

Also, employees would not be able to appeal a suspension to the board unless it is for at least 80 hours, as opposed to the 40-hour benchmark currently in state law.

For the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement officers certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training board, that benchmark would also jump to 80 hours from just 16.

The Law Enforcement Merit Council, which handles law enforcement disciplinary cases, would be replaced by a five-member personnel board.

The board would only hear cases involving DPS officers, with the council’s other duties shifting to the Arizona Department of Administration.

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