The Arizona Senate approved a measure that calls for an external audit of the beleaguered Child Protective Services agency, despite concerns that the measure could impede efforts by Gov. Jan Brewer and a coalition of lawmakers and stakeholders working to create a new child safety division.
Senate President Andy Biggs’ proposal would authorize the Arizona Department of Administration to spend up to $250,000 to hire a firm from outside the state to conduct a comprehensive, “nose-to-toes” audit of CPS.
The measure sped through the chamber this week, gaining approval in the Appropriations Committee on
Feb. 18, before clearing the Rules Committee and two votes on the Senate floor on Feb. 20.
Biggs, R-Gilbert, repeatedly defended his intentions for introducing the bill. Still, some lawmakers privately and, in a more quiet tone, publicly questioned whether the Senate leader was making a power play in negotiations over the creation of a new child safety agency. For now, it is known as the Division of Child Safety and Family Services.
Top members of the executive branch, including chief of staff Scott Smith and policy director Michael Hunter, met during the past two weeks with members and staff from the House and Senate about how the new agency might take shape. Also involved in the discussions were Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Office of Child Welfare Investigations Chief Greg McKay.
On Feb. 14, the governor’s budget director, John Arnold, led a discussion on the transition from CPS to the new agency — an effort that, at least for now, comes without a clear price tag.
Brewer’s initial budget proposal included $25 million for the transition to a new child safety agency, without details of how it would be done.
Senate Democrats have questioned how Biggs envisions his audit meshing with the efforts of those meeting weekly in the Executive Tower.
Sen. Lynn Pancrazi, D-Yuma, asked Biggs in committee whether he thought the external audit and Governor’s Office could eventually gel.
“This bill is not meant to impede, but instead facilitate and augment what they are doing, what the governor’s task force is trying to do,” Biggs told the committee.
“While I have great confidence in the task force that’s there, sometimes you really need to step back and get a perspective from someone other than our own.”
Senate Majority Leader John McComish said Biggs’ audit can fit with Brewer’s efforts as long as the right balance is struck to allow ongoing adjustments to the state’s child safety services for years to come.
“We’ve got to find the sweet spot between doing (too little) and doing too much (so) that, next year, we’re not rolling everything back,” McComish said Feb. 18.
Biggs said he’s spoken with Brewer and Charles Flanagan, director of the new agency, to convey his intent.
Prior to a “legislators only” meeting Feb. 18 attended by less than half the members of the Senate, Flanagan told the Arizona Capitol Times that he doesn’t feel Biggs’ work will impede his own.
The governor’s reform workgroup already has early drafts of legislation aimed at creating the new agency, though copies and details weren’t shared with lawmakers when Flanagan briefed them on Feb. 18.
The meeting left some lawmakers wanting more answers. Only five legislators were named to the governor’s workgroup. Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar, D-Phoenix, said her suggestion to add Sen. Katie Hobbs, a Phoenix Democrat with experience in child welfare services, was rejected.
Tovar said she wanted the group to be more transparent in its efforts. Lawmakers filing out of Flanagan’s briefing said the meeting provided little new information.