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Senate OKs overhaul of state personnel system

Gov. Jan Brewer is pictured outside the Supreme Court in Washington April 25. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The GOP-controlled Senate today approved Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to overhaul the rules that govern state workers.

The measure seeks to remove workers from the state’s merit system, giving supervisors more flexibility in firing them.

The measure split the Senate along party lines. The final tally was 21-9.

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The measure now goes to the House for a final vote.

Brewer is expected to sign the measure once it reaches her desk.

Republicans said their aim is to try and mirror the private sector, whose personnel practices, they argue, is more efficient than in the government sector.

But Democrats vigorously opposed the proposal, arguing it gives the governor “tremendous power” and it will breed political cronyism in state government.

They also rhetorically asked what’s wrong with the current personnel system.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said the governor’s office hasn’t given a “rational reason” for pushing the measure.

Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, the assistant minority leader, echoed the sentiment.

“I’m trying to figure out where the sense of urgency is,” she said. “I can’t see it.”

They also panned their Republican colleagues for earlier limiting the debate on the measure, HB2571.

But the legislation’s supporters said what they heard from critics is “vitriol” and “ad hominem” attacks.

Earlier, Republicans beat back amendments offered by Democrats, including a proposal to create a State Personnel Ombudsman, which will have the power to investigate complaints or cases brought to the office’s attention by state workers.

Under the legislation, the conversion to an “at-will” status will apply to new hires, supervisors, attorneys and IT workers, those who are above a certain pay grade and any employee who voluntarily accepts a new assignment or chooses to be “uncovered.”

Other workers may choose to remain covered.

Under the latest plan, the conversion to an “at-will” status won’t extend to peace officers, lower-level correctional officers, and civilian employees at the Department of Public Safety.

The job of administering state workers would fall to a consolidated State Personnel System. The measure, HB2571, seeks to consolidate eight systems that currently govern state workers.

Almost every agency head will also serve at the governor’s pleasure, eliminating their terms of office.

The director of the Department of Public Safety, however, will serve concurrently with the governor and may only be dismissed “with cause.”

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