Agencies make case for new spending, but most requests likely doomed

Ask most state agencies, and they’ll say they need more money. Their lists of wants and needs range from small-dollar requests to eight-digit figures for major initiatives.

And one theme carries through most years – much of what the agencies beg the Governor’s Office for doesn’t ultimately get funded.

Every fall, the agencies send budget requests to the Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, the branch of the Governor’s Office tasked with overseeing the state budget. Some of the requests may end up in the executive budget Gov. Doug Ducey rolls out in January, which then gets negotiated with the Legislature.

Many of the agencies hit on common ongoing needs. Lots of agencies ask for money for massive informational technology projects, most of which don’t get funded. For agencies that provide social services, there’s always “caseload growth,” or costs that need to be covered to maintain a program as it is. And then there are operational costs, like wages and benefits for employees.

Will Humble
Will Humble

Will Humble, the former agency head of the Department of Health Services under two governors, crafted budget requests based on what a governor was interested in, seeking money for things that aligned with the governor’s priorities.

“Part of being an agency director is being a mind-reader,” Humble said.

Humble didn’t want to put in requests that would raise eyebrows, but ones that stood a chance of actually getting the green light. Essentially, each agency is competing against the others, so it’s important to put the strongest, most-likely-to-succeed arguments up front, he said.

“I never looked at it as my wish list. I looked at it as my ‘what is it that I can sell’ list. I wished for a lot more,” he said.

Requests for money from the general fund, the state’s all-purpose kitty, are tougher to justify than those that come from other sources, like taxes, grants, fees or federal programs. Some agencies are largely self-funded, requiring no money from the general fund, while others rely heavily on general fund appropriations.

Daniel Scarpinato, Ducey’s spokesman, said the governor is looking for good policies that will improve services for citizens while keeping a balanced budget.

“And also certainly we’re looking for savings. We‘re looking for where can we save money, not just spend money,” he said.

Plus, he noted, the governor has priorities outside the budget requests, like putting more money into K-12 education. Things like a request from the Department of Corrections for reducing recidivism – which Scarpinato said is an investment financially and personally – will be looked at seriously and prioritized by Ducey.

“The fact is that there are limited resources and money doesn’t grow on trees,” Scarpinato said. “We really need to prioritize K-12 education and our teachers, and that means that the rest of state government has to figure out how to deliver essential services and improve services by saving money.”

ag-budget-webHelp us attack the cities

Attorney General Mark Brnovich wants nearly $1 million to pay for eight staffers in a newly established unit of his office aimed at government accountability and investigations of cities.

A law passed in the 2015 legislative session also tasked the office with investigating complaints from lawmakers about cities or towns that they claim aren’t following state laws. The AG wants more money to investigate these complaints, which could result in the state withholding revenues from cities and towns. The government accountability and special litigation unit, created to handle the lawmaker complaints, also focuses on election law complaints from citizens, open meetings law violations and misuse of public funds.

So far, the attorney general has investigated three complaints under the new law, two of which were resolved locally and one of which prevailed at the Arizona Supreme Court.

Because of the successful court case, the AG “anticipates several new complaints to be filed by legislators in the near future.”

Now, attorneys for the government accountability unit are funded through money brought in by enforcing the Consumer Fraud Act. But the AG’s office said the funding isn’t sustainable, and it takes time and money away from consumer protection duties.

“This workload places the (Attorney General’s Office) in the difficult position of choosing whether to neglect critical consumer protection enforcement in favor of lawmaker initiated S.B. 1487 investigations,” the budget request says.

AG spokeswoman Mia Garcia said the new law requires attorneys to work within strict time deadlines to investigate complaints against cities and towns, which requires resources.

“We weren’t given any special funding, despite the new mandate. The way this unit is funded now isn’t sustainable, and we need a permanent funding source,” Garcia said.

adoa-budget-webObserving World War I

Next November will be the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and the Arizona Department of Administration wants to spruce up its monuments in anticipation.

The department expects an influx of visitors on November 11, 2018, and wants to use $25,250 to maintain and repair the monuments and mechanical equipment located at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

The money wouldn’t come from the state’s general fund, but a separate fund with more than $200,000 available that’s meant to go toward repairing monuments and memorials.

ADOA also has applied for a grant to restore the World War I memorial through an initiative sponsored by the World War I Centennial Commission and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. If it doesn’t get awarded a grant, the department said it will first use the $25,250 appropriation to restore the World War I memorial. The department said it’s also actively trying to get donations from groups that support the various monuments on the plaza.

“If the funds are not appropriated this fiscal year, ADOA will miss the opportunity to repair and restore monuments in observance of the World War I Centennial,” ADOA’s budget request says. “In addition, there will be further degradation of the monuments and memorials.”

dcs-budget-webThink of the children

In order to help kids get adopted, the Department of Child Safety seeks $21 million from the general fund to cover the growth in its adoption subsidy program.

The subsidy largely provides ongoing money to help families cover expenses if they adopt children with special needs, DCS said in its budget request.

Families can get a one-time payment of up to $2,000 to help cover the costs of the adoption process, like court fees, attorneys, fingerprints and home studies. But for some families that adopt special needs kids, there’s an ongoing “maintenance subsidy,” averaging $700 per month, to help pay for some of the child’s costs, based on the family’s needs.

The money can be used by families to cover child care, insurance and educational needs, the department said in its request, but it’s not intended to cover all the daily living expenses of the child.

The number of adoptions has increased in the past few years, and the department expects there will be 14 percent more adoptions next fiscal year than this year, from 29,420 on average in this fiscal year to 33,539 next year. The numbers of adoptions spike in November, dubbed “adoption promotion month,” and more children get off the adoption subsidies in the summer, when many new adults graduate from high school.

If the department doesn’t get the funding needed to keep up with growth, it will have to drop the amount it pays in new adoption contracts, which would be a “financial disincentive to adopt versus keeping a child in foster care,” the budget request says.

“New adoptions may be stalled by a reduced ability to finalize new contracts, with increased time in out-of-home care leading to relatively higher costs to the State overall and reduced outcomes for children,” the budget request says.

adot-budget-webWhen will we think of the roads?

Ask any rural lawmaker: Do the roads throughout the state need help? During the 2017 legislative session, funds for highways became a battle-cry for lawmakers after the Governor’s Office didn’t include any money for roads in his proposed budget.

The Department of Transportation wants $25.6 million to help address crumbling highways throughout the state.

Typically, ADOT has used about $15 million each year on sealing deteriorated roads, said agency spokesman Steve Elliott. The $25.6 million request would be added to the $15 million, he said.

But that’s only a fraction of what the department estimates it needs to repair cracks, seal roadways and smooth out rough patches. The total need is more than $128 million, something ADOT recognized wasn’t doable because of the lack of state dollars and the difficulty of administering all the money at one time.

If money isn’t spent now to address road issues, the investment taxpayers put into roadways will deteriorate faster and negatively affect travel for both business and pleasure, the department wrote in its request.

And if the state doesn’t pony up more money for roads, the department won’t be able to preserve and extend the life expectancy of its highway system.

“These essential duties, if not properly funded, will result in more rapid deterioration of our pavement leading to more expensive reconstruction in the long run and more expense to the taxpayer,” the department wrote.

liquor-budget-webYou booze, you lose

Other requests are relatively small, but could have a big impact on an agency’s ability to do its job. Take the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control – the agency wants $35,000 to help with litigation costs and $102,000 for a full-time assistant attorney general.

Since the liquor department doesn’t have enough money now to fund litigation costs, it has to drop the amount it collects for fines in the hopes people won’t appeal them, the agency’s request says.

Now, if people with liquor licenses violate liquor laws, they get their fines reduced by half if they don’t contest the findings or judgments in legal hearings, the agency wrote.

“While there is no real way to measure direct impacts, a concern is that increased efforts to avoid contested cases could be jeopardizing public safety as well as adversely impacting services,” the agency wrote.

The agency currently has an assistant attorney general who spends one-third of their time on liquor department issues, but it wants a full-time person to focus on legal support and navigate complex liquor laws.

Without a full-time assistant AG, the department has missed opportunities to pursue more complex investigations related to racketeering, the agency wrote.

ade-budget-webWe don’t really want these epi-pens

The Department of Education is seeking $1.65 million to purchase injectable epinephrine for state schools, but its own officials deemed the request “unnecessary.”

The funds would be used to purchase two doses of adult and two doses of pediatric epinephrine for each of about 2,000 district and charter schools.

A 2013 law requires the department to make this exact request each year and to train selected staff to administer the potentially life-saving drug to someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

But the department would like an end to that mandate.

Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold in packages of two for a generic wholesale price between $300 and $400, or $800 per school. That leaves the remaining $50,000 for the same staff training each year.

But if the Legislature opts not to provide the funding, adding to the epinephrine stockpile is optional anyway.

“Schools are currently able to pursue other avenues to receive free or reduced pricing to stock epinephrine auto- injectors for emergency purposes,” the department wrote, “so the department believes this mandated budget request is unnecessary.”

In other words: We’re all set, thanks.

sfb-budget-webSave our crumbling school facilities

As school facilities age and degrade, emergency solutions have cost the state thousands of dollars at a time, according to the School Facilities Board.

Now, the board would like the authority and resources to predict failures and prioritize repairs.

Take the chiller (a cooling system) failure at Lake Havasu High School for example.

The board wrote the school’s two chillers failed, leaving the school without any relief from the heat. For months, the chillers had not been performing as expected, but nothing was done to preempt the inevitable.

The school had to be cooled, the board wrote. The replacement process took months despite being accelerated, and in the meantime, funding was provided to rent two trailer-mounted temporary chillers at a total cost of $325,000.

If the chillers had been replaced ahead of their failure one at a time, the rental would have been unnecessary.

In addition to the authority to predict such failures, the board is seeking expenditure authority from the Building
Grant fund to inspect school buildings every five years, to implement a tool prioritizing repairs and to partner with a third-party to gather information about the facilities and add it to that database, dubbed the Facility Condition Index.

“The information would roll up to a ‘dashboard’ giving the SFB an indication of a building system’s condition,” the board wrote. “The timing of repairs and replacements of those systems would be prioritized and managed to reduce avoidable costs and minimize disruption to students.”

Each school district would have its own dashboard to track scheduled maintenance, the board went on. Projects could be scheduled in advance and completed during breaks, and multiple purchases could be made at once to take advantage of bulk pricing.

The board included a draft for the proposed partnership, including anticipated costs well over $1 million,
though the board anticipates that cost would still pale in comparison to excess emergency costs.

Arizona dad seeking answers after son dies in state care

This 2022 photo provided by Richard Blodgett shows Blodgett and his son, Jakob. Blodgett was arrested in December, and Jakob was placed in a foster home under the Arizona Department of Child Safety where he developed complications from diabetes and died. (Richard Blodgett via AP)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Richard Blodgett, a single father, was jailed on a drug charge when a worker from Arizona’s child welfare agency delivered the news: His son was brain dead and on life support — just days after being taken into state custody. 

Blodgett screamed, cried and screamed some more. Jakob was his only son, a “darn cute,” curious 9-year-old who loved remote control cars and video games. 

Blodgett is now struggling to understand how it happened. 

A medical examiner listed Jakob’s death in late December as natural with complications from diabetes, a condition he was diagnosed with as a toddler. Specifically, Type 1 diabetes, which means his body was unable to produce enough insulin to survive. 

Blodgett said he suspects the Arizona Department of Child Safety failed in its duty to protect his son, either by not monitoring his blood sugar levels or not ensuring that Jakob had enough insulin to prevent a serious, life-threatening complication known as ketoacidosis. 

“They couldn’t keep him alive for two weeks, two weeks,” the father told The Associated Press while on a recent furlough from jail. “That’s absolutely insane. That was my pride and joy. I’m lost. I’m completely lost. My family is completely lost.” 

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Jakob’s death. The office declined a request for an interview with Sheriff Paul Penzone, citing the ongoing investigation. 

The Department of Child Safety also declined to comment specifically on the case, citing confidentiality laws. But spokesperson Darren DaRonco said, in general, that foster parents are required to receive training from a medical provider before taking in a child with any medical condition. 

DaRonco did not respond to further inquiries, including whether Jakob’s insulin pump was removed and if the boy’s regular doctor was consulted about his care — questions raised by Blodgett and his mother, Cheryl Doenges. They said Jakob could not manage the insulin on his own. 

In the fiscal year that ended last June, about 26 children died while in the agency’s custody, including from overdoses, medical conditions, natural and still undetermined causes. In the previous fiscal year, that number was 14. The figures amount to a fatality rate of about 97 per 100,000 children during that period, the most recent for which data is available. 

That rate is higher than overall deaths of children in Arizona. Nationally, about 55 children died per 100,000 children in the general population of all causes in 2020 — similar to Arizona’s number. 

Karin Kline, director of child welfare initiatives at the Family Involvement Center in Phoenix, said the death of a child is a concern, especially if it happens under the custody of the state. 

“Rest assured, somebody is going to look into it if there’s an inkling that the death was a result of negligence or abuse,” she said. 

Jakob and his father had been living at a motel when Blodgett was arrested in December. Blodgett, who already had a drug case pending and has spent time in prison, said was operating a backhoe much of the day and pulled over at a gas station to take a nap. The report from the Show Low Police Department corroborated as much, but officers wrote that they suspected Blodgett nodded off as a result of drug use. 

Authorities ultimately found more than 4,000 fentanyl pills in Blodgett’s possession, according to the report. Blodgett was booked into jail in Holbrook and charged with one count of drug possession, Navajo County Superior Court documents show. 

Blodgett told the AP he had been using fentanyl for pain management after he dropped 300 pounds with weight loss surgery. 

“I wasn’t getting high. I wasn’t abusing them. I was using them to be able to work and provide for my son,” Blodgett said. “Unfortunately, they are illegal. I can’t get around that. But they were stronger than my meds, and they were working.” 

Jakob was alone in the motel room when an officer picked him up and alerted the Department of Child Safety, according to the police report. Blodgett said someone at the motel always checked on his son, whom he called as police confronted him. 

He told Jakob he got into trouble, and the boy asked if his father was going to be OK, Blodgett said. The two often traveled together in vast expanses of Arizona — taking selfies, stopping at gas stations to get snacks and playing with Nerf guns. 

“The last time I got to see my son, he was already dead,” Blodgett said. 

Doenges couldn’t make the trip to see Jakob at the hospital from Washington state where she lives because of bad weather. But she asked a friend in Arizona to sit with Jakob, pray with him and play music for him so he wasn’t alone — even if he didn’t know she was there. 

Furloughed from jail, Blodgett arranged for a ride to Phoenix, more than three hours away, to see his son unresponsive in a hospital bed. Hospital staff had placed a teddy bear next to the boy and a heart-shaped pendant — Blodgett kept one half and the other half will be cremated with Jakob, Doenges said. 

Blodgett took pictures, hugged and kissed his son and talked to him. The hospital had a memorial for Jakob on Dec. 26 — the day some of his organs were harvested and later donated with Blodgett’s blessing, along with a moment of silence. 

Before the year ended, Blodgett was back in jail. 

Doenges said her son will have to find a way to piece his life back together. 

“My suggestion to him is to live a really good life in memory of Jakob and do something positive,” she said. “He probably didn’t even hear me, he’s so full of grief.” 


Associated Press data journalist Camille Fassett in Seattle contributed to this report. 

Arizona Supreme Court limits right of tribes to intercede in adoption cases


The ability of tribes to intercede in the adoption of Native American children not living on the reservation is limited and not absolute, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled today.

In a unanimous decision, the justices rejected arguments by the Gila River Indian Community that Arizona courts must transfer such cases to tribal courts. Writing for the court Chief Justice Scott Bales said while such transfer is permissive, it is not a right.

And in this case, the high court said a juvenile court judge was correct in deciding to rebuff the tribe’s request.

The lawsuit is part of an ongoing effort by the Goldwater Institute to challenge the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which, in some circumstances, gives tribes purview over what happens to Native American children not living on the reservation who are taken from biological parents. Attorneys who are representing non-Native parents who are trying to adopt those children have charged that the law is racist because it has one set of standards for Indian children and another for those who are not.

Those efforts to date have come up short, with a federal judge earlier this year throwing out a separate challenge to that law.

But attorney Avi Dynar, who represents the prospective non-Indian adoptive parents in this case, said Tuesday’s ruling is at least a small victory.

“This decision from the Supreme Court is chipping away at one of the important provisions of ICWA,” he said. “This is an important decision that puts tribes on notice that they can’t misuse the Indian Child Welfare Act.”

While saying he was disappointed in the ruling, tribal Gov. Stephen R. Lewis sought to minimize its importance and scope.

In a prepared statement, he noted the decision still preserves the rights of tribes to intercede – and demand transfer to tribal court – early in the process, at the point where the state seeks to sever the parental rights of a Native American parent who does not live on the reservation. That occurs before any hearing on who can adopt.

And Lewis said the lesson of today’s ruling will not be lost on tribes.

“Because of the aggressive involvement of anti-Indian organizations like the Goldwater Institute, Indian tribes have become proactive in seeking transfer to tribal courts early in state dependency cases,” long before any adoption hearings in which they may have no say, he said.

Congress adopted ICWA in 1978 amid concerns that state courts were severing parental rights and approving adoptions of Native-American children who did not live on reservations. The congressional record shows that Congress was concerned that these children were being increasingly adopted by non-Indian families.

That law requires state courts, when placing Indian children who do not live on a reservation for adoption, to give preference to a member of the child’s extended family. That is followed by priority by other members of the child’s tribe and, ultimately, other Indian families.

This particular case involves a girl, not identified, who was born off the reservation in 2014 to a Native-American woman. Court records show that, at the time of her birth, both she and her mother tested positive for amphetamines and opiates.

About a week later, the Arizona Department of Child Safety placed her with foster parents where she has been ever since.

State officials eventually sought to terminate the mother’s rights.

As required by federal law, the Gila River community, where the mother was a member, was notified but did not object. Later, a judge concluded that the foster parents were meeting the child’s needs and started the process of allowing them to adopt the girl.

Only then did the tribe demand the case to be transferred to tribal court.

Bales, in Tuesday’s ruling, rejected arguments by tribal attorneys that the demand for transfer has to be honored by state courts.

He said that right to transfer applies only at the point that the state seeks to terminate the parental rights of a tribal member.

In this case, he said, the court acknowledged that, generally speaking, Native children who are removed from their off-reservation homes should be placed with tribal members. But Bales said the trial judge found good cause to deviate from that. More to the point, the tribe did not appeal that ruling.

It was only after an adoption hearing was scheduled that the tribe moved to transfer the matter.

Bales said the trial judge’s decision was correct and did not violate the federal law. He said the tribe lost its absolute right to transfer once the mother’s rights were terminated.

Bales stressed, though, that Tuesday’s ruling does not preclude a tribe from requesting transfer of adoption hearings to its courts. But he said state courts still maintain the right to determine if there is “good cause” to deny the request.

The challenge to the ICWA itself continues with an appeal to the 9th Circuit.

According to the Goldwater Institute, the statute is racist by giving preference to tribal members because it overrules state laws requiring courts to give prime consideration to the “best interests of the child,” regardless of whether that means placement with a tribal member or someone else.

Babies in recovery as opioid crisis continues

Pregnant with her second child, Clarissa Collins was at her methadone clinic when a woman walked in with a box of doughnuts and a baby doll. 

The woman, Tara Sundem, was partway through a five-year effort to open Hushabye Nursery and launch a novel family-focused program that would treat substance-exposed infants and offer care and support to their caregivers. 

Hushabye Nursery recently celebrated one year in its current care facility in Phoenix and Collins now works there as a peer support specialist, helping others in recovery. 

The center houses a 12-room inpatient nursery for infants suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome – newborns experiencing withdrawal from opioids they were exposed to in the womb, such as heroin and prescription painkillers. 

But on that day in 2019, Collins begrudgingly attended Sundem’s support group for pregnant women with opioid use disorder. By the second group meeting, she decided to come back every week. 

“I looked forward to it. I wanted to see the other girls; I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to meet the baby,” Collins said. “And we became this little family. We became very close friends.” 

As the opioid epidemic worsens nationwide, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) cases are increasing, too. Nationally, the number of babies born with the condition increased 82% from 2010 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The national trend in NAS cases holds true in Arizona and has worsened since the Covid pandemic began. Arizona’s NAS rate in 2020 was 9.1 per 1,000 newborn hospitalizations, up from 5.67 per 1,000 in 2015, according to Arizona Department of Health Services vital statistics reports. In 2010, that figure was 2.65 per 1,000.  

Clarissa Collins, a peer support specialist at Hushabye Nursery, sits in one of the 12 private rooms where babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome and their families weather the withdrawal process. PHOTO BY KYRA HAAS/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

Some of the increase can be attributed to better reporting and other factors, not the opioid epidemic itself, said Sara Rumann, with the department’s Bureau of Women’s and Children’s Health.  

“But we can say overall the general trend is that it has increased over the last 10 years,” Rumann said. 

Symptoms of NAS can include a high-pitched cry, vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, seizures, stiff limbs and trouble sleeping, eating and breathing, according to the department. The babies experience a withdrawal syndrome, not an addiction. 

Collins had her first daughter in 2012, but started using heroin shortly thereafter. The Arizona Department of Child Safety got involved, and Collins ended up relinquishing her parental rights. Her daughter now lives with family in Louisiana. 

“I had gotten strung out right after she was born; I had no history of addiction prior,” Collins said. “But one thing led to another, and a lot of it was I was desperate for my friends. I was 17. I had just had a baby. I wanted my friends back, so I did whatever they were doing.” 

This time would be different. 

Sobriety was part of that, and so was the Hushabye Opioid Pregnancy Preparation and Empowerment (HOPPE) program. Collins still has her green HOPPE binder, which she calls the bible, that helped her prepare for her baby’s arrival, gather information for the DCS investigation and document her classes. 

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications like methadone or buprenorphine in combination with counseling and therapy to treat opioid-use disorder. Hushabye staff recognize MAT as the “gold standard” of care, Sundem said. It’s recommended for pregnant women with opioid-use disorder because it’s often unsafe for women to completely stop taking opioids while pregnant. The change can trigger a miscarriage, preterm labor or fetal distress.  

But because the medications used are opioids, Department of Child Safety is still contacted because the baby is still substance exposed. 

“Whether it be prescribed or unprescribed, that’s for DCS to figure out, but it has to be reported to the state,” Collins said. 

The increase in NAS cases is something Sundem, a neonatal nurse practitioner, saw firsthand. She has spent most of her nearly 30-year nursing career in neonatal intensive care units. About eight years ago, she said, something changed. 

Clarissa Collins, left, chats with Hushabye Nursery executive director and founder Tara Sundem at the facility. Sundem and Collins first met in 2019 when Collins attended one of Sundem’s support groups for pregnant women with opioid use disorder. PHOTO BY KYRA HAAS/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

“We just started seeing this surge of babies coming in and withdrawing,” Sundem said. “When we started seeing that influx, I was like, ‘What do we do?’” 

About six years ago, Kelly Woody, who co-founded Hushabye with Sundem, had the answer. The fellow neonatal nurse practitioner had watched a segment on the “Today” show about Lily’s Place, a first-of-its-kind Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome center in West Virginia. 

Woody told Sundem, “This is what we’re going to do.” 

“I’m a believer, and I prayed on it and prayed on it and prayed on it, and went, ‘OK, I guess I’m supposed to do this,’” Sundem said. 

They spent the next five years developing their care model and trying to find funding. 

“I begged, I borrowed, I asked favors,” Sundem said. 

Hushabye’s current facility opened in November 2020. Hushabye is licensed with the state health department and is accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities International. 

The nursery’s approach is family-centric, with programs for women prenatal and postpartum.  

Postpartum care for mothers is important because the relapse rate in the first six months is high – nearly 80%. Alicia Allen, an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, studies substance use in women. She said while postpartum is an especially vulnerable time, it’s also a good time for health care professionals to interact with people who are struggling with substance use. 

“During pregnancy, there’s a lot more motivation, there’s a lot more support and there’s a lot more access to health care, so that’s a perfect place to start,” Allen said. 

With in-patient infants, Hushabye uses the Eat, Sleep, Console method, a newer approach to treating NAS that prioritizes the comfort of the baby and non-pharmacologic treatments, shifting away from scheduled postnatal opioid treatment to “as needed” dosing. Parents stay with their babies during their time at the nursery. 

“Our patient in-patient is that baby, but that baby’s therapy is their family,” Sundem said. 

The Eat, Sleep, Console approach is effective. Babies withdrawing at Hushabye stay an average of about 6 to 7 days. The national average stay for a baby with NAS in a neonatal intensive care unit was 11 days in 2018 

Banner University Medical Center Tucson was the first Arizona hospital to learn about Eat, Sleep, Console, a model that got its start at Yale University through the research of pediatrician Dr. Matthew Grossman.  

“What we’ve been doing for the last 40 years is not working, and everybody’s cranky. Not only the babies – the families are cranky; the nurses are cranky,” Lisa Grisham, director of Banner’s Family Centered NAS Care Program, said. “When you look back, we thought we were doing the best we could. And now we realize there’s a better way to do it.” 

In addition to Hushabye, nine hospitals in Arizona use Eat, Sleep, Console for at least some of their NAS patients, depending on the individual situation.  

 At Hushabye, there are 12 private rooms where babies can withdraw in a dark environment and their families can stay 24/7. Usually, there are five or six babies at any one time, though Sundem said there was recently a span of three weeks where they were at capacity.  

“We encourage (caregivers) to stay, even if they’re struggling. As long as that’s safe and they’re not dangerous, we want them to stay,” she said. “What they are doing for their baby just by being present in the room – they’re helping with the wiring of the brain, something that you and I can’t do.” 

When a family comes to Hushabye, Sundem said staff meet them where they’re at — and connect them to resources for food, transportation and housing if needed. She said she thinks families stay in part because the staff are trauma-informed. They know that many people have experienced trauma, that trauma affects health and behavior and that it should be factored into how people are treated to avoid retraumatizing them. 

If parents are able, staff help teach them how to care for their baby. With all families, Sundem said staff try to help them avoid shame or guilt by understanding that they have opioid use disorder, a medical condition, not some sort of moral failing. 

Many of the parents, Sundem said, started taking an opioid after it was prescribed to them following something like an accident or a C-section and then developed a dependence. Three out of four women who use heroin were initially prescribed opiates. 

“When you talk to families, it is to function – it’s not to get high,” Sundem said. “They literally say that they’re dope sick, that they use to get well.” 

In an effort to reduce stigma against pregnant women with opioid-use disorder, the health department launched its campaign “Hope Heals” earlier this year, following a recommendation in the state’s Opioid Action Plan 2.0. Rumann worked on the campaign, as did Jacqueline Kurth, the office chief for injury and violence prevention in the department’s Bureau of Chronic Disease and Health Promotion. 

“There’s a lot of stigma that is a barrier for people seeking help for mental health disorders and for substance use disorders, in particular for pregnant and parenting women,” Kurth said. 

The green Hushabye Opioid Pregnancy Preparation and Empowerment (HOPPE) program binder helps women prepare for their baby’s arrival, gather information for the Department of Child Safety and document their classes. PHOTO BY KYRA HAAS/ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES

On the outpatient side, Hushabye has a licensed marriage and family therapist and two case managers. One case manager focuses specifically on helping families navigate interactions with the Arizona Department of Child Safety. Sometimes, Sundem said, families are so stressed that they don’t really hear what DCS is saying they need to do. 

“Sometimes it’s because they’re not healthy, but sometimes it’s just because it’s so stressful,” Sundem said. “And sometimes, they speak a completely different language.” 

That was Collins’ experience after the birth of her first child. 

“I had no clue what the hell I was doing back then,” she said. “I went through DCS; I went to court; I did all of that. I tried going to treatment, but I had no clue what I was doing. I was physically present, but I had no clue what was going on.” 

Collins and the other peer support person have both been through the Hushabye program. Collins’ daughter recently turned 2. The other peer support’s baby will be 1 in February. 

The facility has two nurses on duty around-the-clock, even if there’s only one baby, to be able to resuscitate if needed. While not a hospital, Hushabye provides the care a baby with NAS needs. If something goes wrong, Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, Valleywise Health Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital are all a 5- to 7-minute drive from the nursery.  

Out of the more than 180 babies treated at Hushabye, only three have been sent back to the hospital for additional treatment, Sundem said.  

For Collins, working as peer support for others in recovery has helped her, too. She still attends groups and lives with her daughter and her fiancé, who is also in recovery. She knows what the women at Hushabye are experiencing because she’s been through it.  

“It’s healing to me,” she said. “Because it’s like I’m almost able to close a chapter in my past knowing that, OK, I got somebody somewhere farther than I could go.” 

Child support, unemployment checks issued after cyber attack

The checks are now in the mail.

That’s the message from the state Department of Administration this week to about 800 Arizonans who were counting on getting their child support, child care and unemployment checks by the first of the month.

Agency spokeswoman Megan Rose told Capitol Media Services that Exela Technologies, the private company the state uses to print and mail correspondence, took its systems offline on June 19 after experiencing a cyber attack.

The result she said, affected four state agencies, including the Department of Economic Security.

Not only did checks not go out, but people did not get forms they were supposed to fill out, often with deadlines like to continue benefits.

Rose said the company resumed its Phoenix operations and is working to resolve backlogs. More to the point, she said the checks were printed on Sunday and were mailed out Tuesday.

She also said that the state will ensure that anyone who missed a deadline to send a form to DES will not be penalize and the dates for responding will be adjusted.

Also affected was the state Department of Revenue whose print jobs with Exela include about 20,000 refund checks. Rose said these, too, will be printed and mailed this week.

And she said anyone who did not get a timely notice from that agency of an assessment will get additional time to respond, without penalty.

Rose said correspondence from some other agencies also was impacted, including the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and the Department of Child Safety.

She said that the computer problems with Exela were confined to that company and no state computer systems were compromised.



Dept. Of Child Safety under fire

Officials with the state ombudsman and Foster Care Review Board said today the Arizona Department of Child Safety is not providing information through their online database that other offices need, and when the agency does, it is filled with frequent errors and holes.

Ombudsman Joanne MacDonnell told a committee of lawmakers that her office is coming up against walls and being denied access to information they need from the DCS “GUARDIAN” database, which went live on Feb. 1, 2021. MacDonnell said that DCS failed to provide training materials that her office asked for and is blocking their access to hundreds of subcategories of information. 

The Ombudsman’s office is a go-between for citizens who have issues with state agencies. 

“The question of access with our office and the Department of Child Safety has been an ongoing concern. It predates GUARDIAN,” MacDonnell said. 

DCS shut the Ombudsman’s office out last year when errors in the new system delayed payment to families with foster children, as reported at the time by the Arizona Republic. MacDonnell said that despite this year’s problems, it’s an overall improvement. 

DCS Director Mike Faust told the panel that 30% of his department’s case files on foster children list the wrong caregiver, according to new data he received on Monday. 

Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, wanted to know specifics.  

“Could this impact a judge’s decision based on whether or not removal needs to happen? What would be the most egregious outcome that was unintended because of this lack of information?” Townsend asked. 

Faust emphasized that many of the “bumps” in the DCS system have been solved recently, but he said he wants to “narrow in on access to the system” and sit down with MacDonnell. 

“We’re engaging, we’re having conversations,” Faust said. “It’s not for a lack of trying.” 

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Faust as the director of DCS in 2019. Since Faust’s appointment, the number of uninvestigated abuse claims has dropped. The number of children in foster care overall also dropped recently. 

Faust said that there is a review of each case every six months, but a DCS specialist also comes to the court every 90 days. He called the two systems “redundant.”  

Caroline Lautt-Owens, director of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Dependent Children’s Services Division, said that while it’s true that DCS officials appear at the court every 90 days, the court process is entirely different from the review process. At the review, case managers and families can speak. 

The panel of lawmakers also questioned Faust about a recent murder at a group home in Phoenix where one foster child shot and killed another with a stolen gun.  

An anonymous social worker with experience at the home, North Star Independent Living Services, said in a letter that there are several problems with the facility ranging from broken furniture and spoiled food to frequent violence, drug dealing and overdoses that are brushed aside by management. The worker asked the committee to shut down North Star and Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, asked Faust to turn over information and reports on the facility to her. 

“This is a pretty damning testimony here,” Barto said. “I think we’re gonna need those answers.” 

Faust agreed to turn over several pieces of requested information to the committee, sit down with MacDonnell and return for another report in a few weeks. 



Ducey proposes pay raises for nearly half of state employees in $11.4 billion budget

Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey wants to grant pay raises to nearly half of all state employees, with an emphasis on boosting salaries for law enforcement and corrections officers.

About 45 percent of the state workforce, or 15,000 of Arizona’s roughly 33,200 employees, would see salary increases of 5 percent or more in the $11.4 billion budget plan Ducey released Friday.

Most of the $74 million allocated in the budget for pay hikes goes to law enforcement officials, such as corrections officers and highway patrol. Pay raises at other agencies are awarded only to those employees certified by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.

Corrections officers would get a 10-percent pay bump. Officials expect the higher salaries — average pay would increase from $37,000 to $40,700 annually — to help reduce the department’s nearly 20 percent turnover rate for corrections officers. Ducey plans to follow through with another 5-percent pay raise in the next budget cycle.

Ducey also proposed 10-percent pay raises to Department of Public Safety troopers, and a 5-percent pay bump for non-police officers within the agency.

As the Department of Child Safety continues to fail to meet benchmarks set for hiring caseworkers, Ducey plans to attract more workers with a 9-percent pay increase for agency caseworkers and case aides. DCS has a 35-percent turnover rate and has yet to hire the 1,406 caseworkers mandated by state lawmakers, according to figures provided by the Governor’s Office.

Most other law enforcement employees throughout the state would receive pay raises of about 5 percent, with the exception of those that work within the Department of Juvenile Corrections and Department of Health Services, who would receive 15-percent raises.

Ducey’s budget also provides a roadmap to his other spending priorities, including education, infrastructure and some of his pet projects, such as his school safety plan and additional funding for career and technical education and the Arizona Teachers Academy.

Thanks to an estimated $1.1 billion cash surplus, the governor has a sizable chunk of change to spend with this budget cycle. Instead, he proposes saving approximately half of that amount in Arizona’s rainy-day fund and spending the other half on various initiatives.

As the governor outlined in his “State of the State” address, Ducey wants to boost the rainy-day fund by $542 million, which would bring the balance up to $1 billion. That’s roughly 9 percent of total revenue estimates for FY20.

Deposits to the rainy day fund could be even greater if there’s a windfall for state coffers from tax conformity, though the governor’s budget does not account for those potential revenues.


college-books-webThe governor’s plan fulfills the next step in a three-year plan to boost teacher pay, boosting funding for K-12 public schools by a total of $233 million. That’ll translate to a 5-percent pay raise for teachers, and new dollars to school districts for additional assistance.

Performance-based funding would go to more than triple the current number of schools under Ducey’s plan, which overhauls the process by which schools qualify for those dollars and more than doubles the amount of funding available to high-performing schools.

Ducey’s budget would add $60 million to the Results Based Funding program on top of the $38 million provided in FY19, for a total of $98 million in FY20. Those dollars will go to 675 schools throughout the state, roughly half of the 2,000 district and charter schools in Arizona.

The dramatic increase in the number of schools affected by those funds — only 285 receive such funding in FY19 — is due to a shift in the formula to qualify.

Currently, schools are judged based on AzMerit test scores. But that standard can no longer apply universally after the Legislature adopted a bevy of possible tests to track student achievement at the high school level.

Instead, the new standard will rely on the A-F letter grades assigned to schools by the Department of Education, and the grading system that takes a more holistic approach to judging schools for their performance. All schools with an “A” grade would be eligible for Results Based

Funding, a total of 454 “A” schools with at least 60 percent of the student population on free-and-reduced lunch would receive an extra $400 per pupil, while all other “A” schools would receive $225 per pupil. “B” schools in low-income areas, those schools with at least 60 percent of the student body on FRL, would also get $225 per pupil.

The Governor’s Office estimates that of those 675 schools eligible for the funding, 83 percent are districts schools, while 17 percent are charters.

Overall, roughly 36 percent of the schools are in low-income areas where most students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The new funding comes with new reporting requirements. While no details were immediately provided, the governor wants to ensure that schools are reporting not just how they’re spending those dollars, but where. That’s because the Results Based Funding is distributed not to specific schools, but to school districts.

At minimum, 51 percent of those funds must be spent at “A” or “B” schools, but remaining balance can be spent elsewhere in a school district. That leaves open the possibility that dollars earned by one high-performing school can help other struggling schools in the same district.


(Photo courtesy Arizona Motor Vehicle Division)
(Photo courtesy Arizona Motor Vehicle Division)

With a new vehicle registration fee to pay for public safety freeing up nearly $100 million of Highway User Revenue Fund money, or HURF, half of which goes to the state, Ducey is looking to widen Interstate 17.

Work has already begun to expand the road between Sunset Point and south of Black Canyon City, but Ducey’s budget calls for an additional FY19 appropriation of $40 million to start work on a third lane between Anthem and Black Canyon City on the northbound side and several miles of southbound.

The governor also projected another $45 million in both FY20 and 21 to finish the project, for a total of $130 million worth of new investment in that stretch of congested highway, saying expanding the road would increase safety.

That’s all in addition to the State Transportation Board’s scheduled allocation of $193 million to design and construct the I-17 expansion project.

The governor is also calling for an additional $10.5 million from HURF to fund preventative road surface maintenance, bringing the total budget for that up to $51 million, enough to fully fund all ADOT’s preventative maintenance requests, according to the Governor’s Office.

In the last decade, the Mariposa Port of Entry on the west side of Nogales has dropped from the top site for fresh fruit imports to the third place slot behind Laredo and Hidalgo, Texas. After spending millions in recent years to expand the port, Ducey is proposing a $700,000 investment to construct a cold inspection facility, with local partners including the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, putting up the remaining $300,000.

The administration and local business groups hope that will incentivize produce importers with avocados, berries and other temperature sensitive fruits to run their product through Nogales.

That could mean up to $30 million in product traveling through the state annually, and pulling in up to $4 million per year in state and local tax revenues, according to the estimates from a University of Arizona study.

Other spending priorities

The budget allocates funding for several initiatives Ducey mentioned in his “State of the State” speech Monday.

After pledging, then failing to deliver, $11 million in additional funding for school resource officers last year, Ducey is proposing $9 million for school-resource officer grants this year, which he says will provide an additional 89 officers, totaling about 200 provided by the grant program.

The proposal would supply officers to about one out of every 10 schools in the state, fulfilling requested demands for police officers in schools, according to the administration.

Since the grant funding has not kept up with demand for so long, many school districts have simply quit applying, and have found other ways to pay for officers, meaning demand is likely much higher than the governor is estimating.

The governor wants to pump $21 million into the Arizona Teachers Academy, a program that was launched in 2017 with no additional funding in the FY18 budget for the universities to execute it. Instead, universities were left to find the dollars needed to provide free tuition for teachers who agree to teach in Arizona schools in their existing budgets, opening the opportunity up to only about 200 students to start; there are currently about 230 students enrolled.

With the money proposed by Ducey in his executive budget, enrollment is expected to expand to about 3,800 students, according to the Governor’s Office.

That far exceeds the Board of Regents’ growth expectations back in 2017. With no help from the state government to cover the cost of the program, ABOR expected to have just 730 students enrolled in the academy by its fifth year. The governor also wants to expand eligibility to juniors and seniors who are majoring in STEM fields and to non-resident and post-baccalaureate community college students.

Ducey’s proposal would also allow students to request tuition benefits for up to four years — students have so far been able to receive up to two years — and would provide for annual $1,000 stipends for students who agree to teach in critical-need areas after they graduate.

Backed by $36 million, Ducey is also pushing for increased investment in career and technical education.

His budget creates a $10 million incentive program that would provide a $1,000 payment to career and technical schools for each high school student that earns an industry certification in specific high-demand fields like manufacturing, health care and construction, among others.

Ducey also wants to direct $20 million to Pima Community College’s Aviation Technology Center. The contribution is designed to meet growing workforce demands from in-state aviation companies like Boeing.

The governor also aims to direct $6 million to expand healthcare training at Maricopa Community College District.

Unsurprisingly, Ducey’s budget also includes the $35 million in state funding he previously promised in an attempt to solidify Arizona’s drought plan, which in turn, means the state could sign onto the multi-state Drought Contingency Plan.

Ducey to keep troops at border despite Trump’s family separation policy

FILE - In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
FILE – In this May 8, 2018, file photo, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey speaks during an interview in his office at the Arizona Capitol. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Gov. Doug Ducey won’t withdraw National Guard troops from the border even though he objects to President Trump’s policy of separating children from their families.

“I have been outspoken that I don’t want to see families separated at the border,” the governor said Wednesday following his first major campaign speech in his bid for reelection, Ducey said he is relying on his own experience with the state Department of Child Safety.

“We know that separating children from their families is not an ideal situation,” he said. “And my heart breaks for these kids.”

But Ducey made it clear he won’t follow the lead of governors in five other states who have either decided to yank their troops from the border or have reversed earlier commitments to send soldiers there.

“Because I’m a border governor,” he told Capitol Media Services when asked about keeping the 400 soldiers who already are there.

“The safety and security of Arizonans comes first for me,” Ducey continued. “And we can do that and keep families together.”

The Trump administration has faced extensive criticism for its policy of locking up everyone who crosses the southern border – including those who make a claim for asylum – a practice that results in them being separated from their children.

So extensive has been the pressure that the president on Wednesday, signed an order temporarily stopping family separation at the border, halting a policy he instituted earlier this year.

“It’s about keeping families together while ensuring we have a powerful border,” Trump said of his order, issued as the governor was answering questions about the policy. But the president said he was keeping his “zero tolerance” policy of arresting all border crossers, the policy that led to the whole crisis of family separation in the first place.

Ducey press aide Daniel Scarpinato said his boss was “encouraged” by the president’s order.

The governor, said he wants “to do the right thing” about people crossing the border illegally, referring to the recent surge of migrants.

“I believe the people who work for the United States government are good people,” he said. “And they want to do the right thing.”

But while Ducey said he’s in favor of keeping families together, he does not see that as connected to his decision to put — and keep — Guard soldiers on the border.

“I also want to be supportive of the Americans who are serving as border agents and in Customs and Border Protection,” the governor said.

“I think there’s a right way to do this and a humane way to do this,” he continued. “And I think that’s reflective of our American values.”

Ducey’s speech was largely a rehash of his philosophy of smaller government and a promise of no new taxes.

He also boasted of the new funds that have gone into K-12 education since he took office but said more needs to be done. And in the most specific pledge, Ducey vowed to increase public education spending above and beyond inflation and “veto any budget that doesn’t do so.”

Scarpinato said that means dollars above and beyond what his boss already has promised in new state dollars, including funding for an average 19 percent increase in teacher pay by 2020 and restoring $371 million that was taken in prior years – a lawsuit contends illegally – from a special account which funds things like computers, textbooks, buses and some capital needs.

But Ducey, in his speech, also took a slap at the organizers of the Invest in Ed initiative who are hoping to raise about $690 million a year for education by putting a surcharge on income taxes for individuals earning more than $250,000 a year.

Backers contend that’s the only way to ensure there will be enough money to have the state live up to its commitment for the teacher pay hikes and restoration of other state aid. The governor disagreed.

“I’m here to tell you, it’s not going to happen by raising taxes and killing our economy,” Ducey said.

“The only way to make that happen is by letting our hard-working taxpayers keep more of the money they earn and growing Arizona’s economy,” he said. “That’s where our focus needs to be if we want to be competitive with neighboring states.”

Ducey also told his audience that the state’s jobless rate, currently 4.7 percent, is as low as it’s been since “you were renting your movies from Blockbuster.”

But the governor did not point out that’s also true at the national level. In fact, the state’s unemployment rate is still eight-tenths of a point higher than the national average.

Ducey’s budget proposes funds for new and expanded programs

While nearly half the $12.3 billion is going to K-12 education, the proposed spending plan by Gov. Doug Ducey also carves out dollars for some new and expanded programs and priorities.

There’s no increase in per-student funding for the state universities. But Ducey is proposing $35 million for what is being called the New Economy Initiative.

The governor’s office describes that as making “targeted investments” to increase the number of graduates in critical high demand industries like coding, artificial intelligence and “entrepreneurism.” Those dollars also would go to reducing the time necessary to obtain a degree “by modernizing curriculums and programs.”

Another $10 million is set aside in Ducey’s own budget to give the universities cash to provide the necessary matching funds to obtain grants.

And Ducey wants $1 million to better publicize the Arizona Teachers Academy, a program which provides free college education to those willing to go into teaching and remain there for at least four years.

The governor’s budget also does not alter state aid to community colleges. But it would fully restore funding for STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – programs at Maricopa, Pima and Pinal community colleges.

There also is $4 million for the Arizona Advanced Technology Corridor to have those three community college systems set up training programs for companies. Another $6 million is earmarked for the 10 rural community college districts to use pretty much the way they want, divided up based on enrollment.

In public safety spending, Ducey wants $48 million for upgrades and repairs at the Lewis and Yuma prisons. That includes cash for the broken locks at the Lewis facility, a situation that came to public attention after a Phoenix TV station obtained videos showing inmates starting fires and being out of their cells.

That’s on top of another $37 million being added for system-wide maintenance and repairs.

There’s $37 million in salary increases for corrections officers which translates to a 5 percent raise, with an additional $6 million to create for the first time the position of corporal for officers who want more money but do not want to be supervisors.

Ducey’s budget also sets aside $33 million to deal with “population management.” That includes closing the state prison at Florence and transferring the staff to the nearby Eyeman Prison to deal with the fact that nearly one out of every three correctional officer positions are vacant.

At the same time, the plan provides cash to pay county jails or private prisons willing to take some of the more than 3,900 inmates now housed there.

The spending plan also includes $23 million to wipe out a waiting list for subsidized child care, $14 million earmarked to help incentivize adoption of children with significant disabilities and sibling groups, and $5 million to double the “grandmother stipend” which provides financial assistance to extended family members who agree to take in children who are relatives. And there is $11 million for a 10 percent raise for caseworkers at the Department of Child Safety.

The governor also wants $8 million in new grants for local law enforcement to do more drunk-driving traffic stops, $2 million for state liquor authorities to go out and investigate places that over-serve customers, and $1 million for 76 new thermal cameras to detect wrong-way drivers.

There also is $3 million to equip every officers at the Department of Public Safety with a body camera, another $2 million to hire 20 people to download and store all the videos, and $2 million to provide housing in remote areas for DPS officers.

Ducey’s budget also includes $700,000 in hopes of convincing motorists to drive less.

That is designed to help Arizona to meet the standards set in 2015 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for ground-level ozone. The problem is particularly acute in the Phoenix area where last year there were nearly 40 days where pollution levels exceeded the standards.

But Daniel Scarpinato, the governor’s chief of staff, said his boss was not interested in adopting measures similar to California, which has higher fuel-efficiency standards – meaning more miles per gallon and lower emissions per mile – or special fuel formulations to reduce emissions.

“We’re going to be for policies that are good for our economy and protect our environment,” he said.

Ducey’s budget also has $416,400 to hire six full-time veterans’ benefit counselors, people whose job it is to help connect veterans with their available cash programs and counseling.



Embattled social service agency gets new leader

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed a veteran agency director to lead the Department of Economic Security, an agency that has endured years of controversy.

Michael Trailor, who spent the last eight years as head of the Department of Housing, will now run Arizona’s welfare agency, one the largest departments in the state.

Michael Trailor

Ducey has been searching for a permanent director since November 2016, when former Director Tim Jeffries was forced to resign amid reports that he’d fired hundreds of state workers and used a state plane to fly to Nogales to celebrate with employees who gave up their job protections. Henry Darwin, Ducey’s chief of operations, has served as the DES interim director since then.

Clarence Carter, who ran the agency before Jeffries, resigned on Ducey’s first day in office in 2015. Carter was at the helm of DES in 2013 when workers within its Child Protective Services Department did not investigate more than 6,000 child abuse and neglect hotline calls.

The scandal led to a stand-alone Department of Child Safety.

Trailor was appointed to run the Department of Housing in 2009 by former Gov. Jan Brewer. Before that, he spent four years as a principal and urban development specialist with Vanguard Cityhome of Scottsdale.

“Michael is a consummate professional, with experience running a government agency also charged with helping Arizona citizens in need,” Ducey said in a statement. “The dedicated public servants at DES are first in their class when it comes to lifting vulnerable citizens out of poverty and providing them with tools to improve their lives. I’m pleased that Michael will be bringing his valuable experience to this important agency.”

In a statement, Trailor said he was honored by the appointment.

“The services and programs offered by the Department of Economic Security are vital to thousands of Arizonans, and I take this responsibility seriously,” Trailor said. “I look forward to working with the DES team as well as clients and stakeholders, and getting started.”

Carol Ditmore, the assistant deputy director at the housing department, will now serve as interim housing director, Ducey announced.

Foster child who suffered horrific ordeal sues state

The court-appointed guardian of a 6-year-old foster child is suing two state agencies, several adoption entities and two sets of foster and adoptive parents, claiming the child suffered a horrific ordeal while in foster care.

The allegations include the girl being submerged in scalding water and placed in the home of a pedophile, even as the state repeatedly ignored warnings of abuse and failed to protect her.

The complaint, which was filed on behalf of the child, alleged that after removing her from her mother’s care, the state placed her in a home where “criminals ran pornographic rings, (and) sexually abused children entrusted in their care.”

The complaint said caseworkers failed at every turn to protect the child by not investigating and supervising her placement in a house that turned out to be a “den of physical abuse and violence,” and later in “another place of domestic violence, mental and physical abuse.”

According to the complaint, the state removed the child from her biological mother’s home in April 2013 and placed her with Cochise County residents David and Barbara Frodsham in June of that year. It alleges that multiple complaints were made about abuse at the home, that “nothing was done to protect the children placed there,” and that the abuses included using foster children in a pornographic pedophile ring.

During the child’s placement with the Frodshams, her biological mother repeatedly raised concerns about her daughter’s safety, saying her daughter feared men, insisted on being driven back to the foster home by a female driver and would cry when she had to return there.

The complaint said instead of investigating the claims, caseworkers accused the mother of making false allegations and of instilling the fear of men in her child.

David Frodsham
David Frodsham

The child was finally removed from the Frodshams’ care in January 2015 following the arrest of David Frodsham for driving under the influence. According to the complaint, he was at a state office getting foster benefits and was visibly drunk and belligerent. When the police were called, they found the child and another minor in a parked vehicle.

Later, Frodsham was accused of sexual conduct with a minor, procuring minors for sex, and manufacturing child pornography. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

But far from being over, the child’s ordeal would only escalate, according to the complaint.

It said the state placed her in the care of Pima County residents Justin and Samantha Osteraas, despite having been warned by a relative that the home would be a “danger” to children.

It alleges that four days after Christmas in 2016, Samantha Osteraas “submerged and held (her) down… in a bath of scalding hot water.” The child, who was then 5, suffered burns on over 80 percent of her body, and when the police arrived at the scene, they found blood on the floor and pieces of her skin was “falling off her body.”

The complaint said she had to be placed in a medically induced coma, as she was suffering from multiple organ failure. She also lost her toes and would have to undergo operations to replace her skin. She will also need lifelong care as a result of the abuses she suffered, the complaint said.

The Department of Child Safety had no immediate comment at our deadline.

Lawmaker seeks more oversight of Southwest Key

Southwest Key (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Southwest Key (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

A Republican lawmaker wants the state to have greater oversight of Southwest Key facilities after the shelters for migrant children were thrust into the national spotlight following reports of sexual abuse at some Arizona shelters.

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee wants to add additional background checks for employees at residential care facilities after an investigation by Arizona’s Department of Health Services found some Southwest Key employees hadn’t completed mandatory background checks.

The Phoenix Republican introduced SB1247 this week, which would mandate employees at licensed residential care facilities that don’t contract with the state, but that serve children, submit to central registry background checks by the Department of Child Safety.

Typically, employees wishing to work with children or other vulnerable populations are checked against the confidential central registry — a confidential list of people with a history of mistreating children — before getting the go-ahead to begin work.

Southwest Key employees don’t currently have to be vetted by the central registry because its facilities are regulated by the federal government, not the state.

Under Brophy McGee’s bill, employees would still be required to obtain fingerprint clearance cards — cards issued by the Department of Public Safety after a thorough background check to disqualify people with certain crimes on record — within seven days of being hired.

But Brophy McGee said the central registry background checks are more comprehensive and quicker than the fingerprint clearance cards. Regardless, it’s a necessary added layer of security, she said.

Brophy McGee’s bill would also tweak existing law to grant ADHS additional leeway in inspecting residential facilities like Southwest Key.

Currently, ADHS can only conduct routine facility checks or an inspection following a specific complaint. But Brophy McGee’s bill would allow ADHS to inspect the facilities anytime.

The department inspected all of Southwest Key’s Arizona facilities on the call of Gov. Doug Ducey after reports of sexual misconduct at some facilities made national headlines.

A report ADHS released in August showed some Southwest Key employees did not have the required background checks on file.

“I think the biggest issue is that the kids are in the custody of the federal government and the state cannot take custody so you kind of have to reform around that. But there is stuff we can do,” she said.

Southwest Key paid a fine and closed two of its programs as part of a settlement with ADHS.

Brophy McGee’s not the only lawmaker interested in reforming residential childcare facilities following the incidents at Southwest Key over the summer. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been eyeing legislative fixes to boost oversight of residential facilities that care for children, making a bipartisan push for reform likely this session.

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, is pushing for the state to be able to conduct unannounced inspections of Southwest Key facilities and met with representatives from ADHS and Southwest Key to discuss the issue.

“There is a broad acknowledgement that this is a big problem,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times in early January.

Southwest Key — a Texas-based nonprofit — has unaccompanied minor facilities in Arizona and Texas.

Ninth Circuit allows lawsuit against DCS to proceed as class-action

Wooden gavel

The state Department of Child Safety has to defend how it handles the more than 14,000 children in foster care now and all those who will be there in the future.

In a unanimous ruling Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that most of the claims against the state should be handled in a class-action lawsuit. That means the agency will face questions on not just how it has handled the care of a handful of children who filed suit but whether its policies endanger others in the system.

Friday’s ruling does not force DCS to do anything – yet. Instead, it sends the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver who will hear evidence of the agency’s practices.

“It allows us to go forward with the case and prove the claim that the children who are in the foster care system are not receiving the services they need to be successful and they’re not being placed in appropriate living arrangements and they’re not being reunited with their families,” said attorney Anne Ronan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. She is part of the legal team suing the state.

And if the challengers win, it could force DCS to not just reform their practices but to hire more caseworkers to ensure that they are not overloaded.

There was no immediate response from DCS.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2015, claims that there is “a severe shortage of mental, behavioral and other health care services.”

It also alleges that DCS has failed to investigate reports that children in foster care have been maltreated. There also are claims of a severe shortage of foster homes and “failure to engage in basic practices for maintaining family relationships.”

The original lawsuit named 10 children as plaintiffs.

But in 2017 Silver agreed to allow the case to continue as a class-action lawsuit, effectively allowing those children and their attorneys to seek relief for not just them but everyone else currently in – and who eventually will come in – to the foster care system.

At a hearing earlier this year, attorneys for the state argued against class-action status, saying that reforms have been made since the original lawsuit was filed.

Attorney Rob Ellman also said that the problems faced by the original 10 plaintiffs do not represent the situations faced by all the children in foster care. And some of the original plaintiffs are no longer in the system.

But appellate Judge Clifford Wallace, writing Friday’s ruling for the three-judge panel, said handling the issue on a class-action basis makes the most sense.

As a threshold matter, Wallace said that B.K., who the court decided was a “representative class member,” had standing to sue. He said she has “serious medical diagnoses” that require prompt and adequate medical care from her custodian. And that is the state.

“She has presented evidence that she had not received adequate medical care or appropriate placements in the past as well as evidence that statewide policies and practices expose her to a risk of similar harms,” Wallace wrote.

More to the point, the judge said that the allegations about the effects of statewide practices are “common questions of law or fact” that can be litigated in a single case rather than each foster child having to file a separate lawsuit.

The key, said Wallace, is those statewide policies and how they affect care for not just B.K. but everyone else.

“B.K. has demonstrated, not merely through allegations but through raw data, expert reports, deposition testimony, and DCS materials, that she is subject to statewide policies and practices that apply equally to every member of the class,” the judge wrote. “By defining her claim based on the risk of harm caused by these policies … B.K. has demonstrated that class members have similar injuries, based on conduct that is not unique to her and caused by the same injurious course of conduct.”

And there’s something else.

Wallace said there are some common practices at issue here, including the excessive use of emergency shelters and group homes, the unnecessary separation of children, and placement of children far from home. Wallace said if the problems facing B.K. and others are caused by state policies, then “a single, indivisible injunction ordering state officials to abate those policies would provide relief to each member of the class.”

Ronan disputed the contention of DCS that things have gotten better for children in the foster care system.

She said there may be fewer investigations that are backlogged. And there are fewer children in the system now than when the lawsuit was filed.

But Ronan said these had nothing to do with the claims in the lawsuit.

“They were about the care the children received when they got into the system,” she said. “We haven’t seen a significant change in that situation at all.”

Ronan said there are still a lot of kids going into congregate care group home settings versus actual foster care. She said there still is a shortage of foster families and there continue to be problems getting behavioral health treatment for the children.

Report: Arizona DCS shorting foster care monitors of information

The Department of Child Safety is not providing some information to local foster care review boards, leaving volunteer board members without data they need to help determine the permanent status of more than 11,000 children in out-of-home care, according to a new state report.

Auditor General Lindsey Perry said the boards – there are 123 across the state at last count – monitor what DCS has done to carry out a child’s case plan for achieving some permanent status, whether that is return to a parent or terminating parental rights. They also provide findings and recommendations to juvenile court judges who make the ultimate decision on what happens to children who have been removed from their homes.

But in a report to state lawmakers, she said some DCS caseworkers did not comply with the agency’s policy requiring them to attend a board’s case review sessions. That prevented some local boards from conducting complete reviews of children in foster care.

Lindsey Perry
Lindsey Perry

Perry also said the ability of the boards to get information has been hobbled by a 2-year-old computerized system designed to track all cases as well as the failure of caseworkers to keep those records current.

She said, though, that the fault is not entirely with DCS.

Perry said that the Administrative Office of Courts, which is tasked with getting the information from DCS to the volunteer boards, didn’t get some of what they requested because they had made errors in making the requests from the automated system.

Whatever the reasons, Perry said all this impairs the ability of the boards to do their jobs.

In a written response, DCS Director David Lujan said he agrees with the findings of the auditors and will implement their recommendations. He specifically said there will be additional training and supervision and, as appropriate, “progressive discipline guidelines for supervisors when there are staff performance issues.”

Foster care review boards were established by the Legislature in 1978 in response to concern that foster children were being “lost” in out-of-home care and staying too long in temporary placement.

There is at least one foster care review board in each county, with several in the more populated counties. The five volunteer members on each board are appointed by the court and are supposed to represent the racial, ethnic, social and economic groups of the county in which they serve.

Board members are legally required to review at least once every six months the case of each child who remains in out-of-home placement and provide a report to the juvenile court within 30 days.

All that goes to the role of boards in ensuring that there is some effort being made to achieve some permanent status for children rather than allowing them to simply languish in foster care. And that specifically includes a target date by which a child can be returned home or placed for adoption or permanent guardianship.

To do their jobs, Perry said, boards need to review the actions of DCS. That includes whether reasonable efforts were made to prevent the child’s removal from home in the first place and whether remaining at home would be contrary to the child’s welfare.

The boards also make findings and recommendations about whether the out-of-home placement continues to be necessary and that the placement is “safe, appropriate and the least restrictive.” And they also ensure there is a written case plan to establish an appropriate permanency goal which outlines the tasks for both the child and the parents and whether they are following those tasks.

But what the boards need to do that, the report says, is the cooperation of DCS.

Perry said DCS policy requires caseworkers to attend local board case reviews – or at least arrange for their supervisor to attend in their place. But she said that isn’t the case.

Auditors picked two days to review where there were 124 case reviews scheduled. They found that caseworkers attended just 86 of those, or 69%.

There were another 16 where the caseworker did not attend but notified AOC of their absence and provided a statement with case updates. And in 22 cases no one attended or notified AOC.

The information caseworkers have, Perry said, is important.

“Caseworkers can provide information and perspectives in case reviews that may not otherwise be available to local board volunteers,” she said, information they need to make findings and recommendations to juvenile court. And she said this is more than academic.

In one situation where a caseworker did not attend, the child under review had been hospitalized for suspected physical abuse prior to their first out-of-home placement. She said that meant the board had no current information about the child’s health conditions or the status of any criminal investigation against the parents.

And to make her point of how valuable caseworker attendance is, Perry cited a situation where the caseworker did attend a meeting and provided the local board with some information it did not have, like the child’s current placement and target date for achieving permanency.

“Further, the caseworker was able to inform the local board that the child’s parents had stopped participating in services that were required for them to be reunited with their child,” she said, information the local board would not have known because it was not in the case documents they had received. Perry said that enabled the board to include the parent’s lack of participation in its findings and recommendations to the juvenile court.

But it’s not just the actions or inactions of caseworkers that can hamper the ability of boards to do their jobs. Perry said board members also must get the information they need.

DCS began using its Guardian system in early 2021 which is designed for caseworkers to manage and store information about individual cases. It is that system that is used by the AOC to provide the local boards with what they need.

But Perry said a review of 13 cases from around the state for two specific dates checked showed that the Guardian system did not provide AOC staff with a complete report in any of those situations. And in some cases, she said, the caseworkers’ direct supervisors noted that up-to-date information was not stored in the system.

“Additionally, the supervisors did not document taking additional action to hold the caseworkers accountable for creating an up-to-date case plan in Guardian, such as noting a deadline by which the case plan should be created or following up with the caseworker,” Perry said. All that, she said, is important.

“Without complete information about the cases of children in out-of-home care, local boards may not be able to fulfill their statutory responsibility to review these cases and submit complete findings and recommendations to the juvenile court,” the report says. And that can mean the boards cannot assess progress made toward the child’s case plan goals.

Perry said none of this should be a surprise to DCS, citing two meetings last year of a special oversight committee at the Capitol.

“Legislators expressed concern that local boards were not receiving case plans and that volunteer local board members were discouraged because of their inability to get the information they need to perform their duties,” she said.


Suit challenges legal process of Arizona administrative hearings


A Washington, D.C. organization is challenging the ability of the heads of state agencies in Arizona to discard the conclusions of independent hearing officers.

The new lawsuit filed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court contends that a caregiver at a group home was denied his rights when Greg McKay, director of the Department of Child Safety, concluded he was guilty of child abuse. Attorney Adi Dynar of the New Civil Liberties Alliance said McKay’s findings could result in the man identified only as Philip B. having his name being entered into the Arizona Central Registry as a child abuser for the next 25 years.

Dynar said McKay’s conclusions are directly contradicted by the findings of the administrative law judge who heard the evidence and exonerated Mr. B.

But the larger legal issue, said Dynar, is the fact that Arizona law actually allows McKay to substitute his own judgment − and even his own version of the facts − from those of the independent hearing officer who was actually the one to conduct the hearing and listen to the witnesses. He wants a trial judge to find that statute unconstitutional.

The outcome of the case has implications beyond DCS.

Many other state agencies operate under the same statutory provisions, with directors given wide latitude to decide cases even when the findings are contrary to those of the hearing officer. A declaration of unconstitutionality would undermine the entire system, a move that could help those who are accused of running afoul of agency rules, including those whose professions are regulated by the state.

There was no immediate response from either DCS or the attorney general’s office, which is tasked with defending the constitutionality of state statutes.

The underlying issue involves a 2018 incident when the caregiver was accused of placing his forearm against the neck of a 13-year-old boy to the point where the child’s face turned red and he was unable to breathe.

Dynar said that following a hearing the administrative law judge − who technically works not for DCS but for a separate Office of Administrative Hearings − concluded that there was no probable cause to support the finding of abuse.

What happened next, Dynar said, is that McKay struck some of the testimony from the record, declined to accept the testimony of Philip B. and another adult witness, and ordered that the finding of abuse be listed on the record as “substantiated.”

“In effect, that outcome means a death sentence for his personal reputation and career, which he has spent so far exclusively caring for children,” Dynar wrote. He said being listed on the Central Registry “can and will be used” against Mr. B. to determine qualification for any future job where he would be near a child.

That led to the appeal Friday to Maricopa County Superior Court and Dynar’s petition to the judge not just to overturn McKay’s findings but to void the process that allows the DCS director as well as those heading other state agencies to overturn the decision of the administrative law judge.

Dynar called it a “stacked process.”

“The only independent factfinder in the administrative process employed here was the administrative law judge,” he wrote. “The ALJ heard testimony, made credibility determinations, and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law into the record.”

But under the way Arizona law works, any appeal from the ALJ’s decision − whether by the person who was the subject of the complaint or the agency which filed the complaint − goes back to the head of the agency, “the very same agency that investigated the prosecuted the charge against Mr. B. in the first place.”

“Under this procedure, DCS and Director McKay not only investigated and prosecuted the child-abuse charge against Mr. B., but also acted as the ultimate factfinder and judge,” Dynar wrote.

In amending the findings of fact by the ALJ, the attorney said, McKay acted “as a one-man jury.” And in deciding whose testimony to believe, Dynar said McKay acted as a judge, something he said is particularly legally offensive given that it was the ALJ and not McKay who actually observed the witnesses and their testimony.

“To say that this process is ‘bad’ is a gross understatement,” Dynar argued.

The lawsuit actually attacks more than the system that gives agency directors the final say.

Dynar said even the process used by hearing officers is legally flawed, denying someone who is accused of wrongdoing the right to question witnesses. And he said it should require something more than “probable cause” to determine someone’s guilt.

He said that if a judge invalidates the law it will be up to the Legislature to come up with a constitutional system that protects the rights of those facing administrative hearings.

The new Arizona lawsuit appears to fit the kinds of cases taken up by the New Civil Liberties Alliance which, according to its web site, “views the administrative state as an especially serious threat to constitutional freedoms.” Other cases range from challenging the use of automatic license plate readers by a Florida city to contesting a federal rule banning the use of “bump stocks” that effectively make automatic weapons out of semiautomatic rifles.

This isn’t the first time that legal questions have been raised about the process of agency chiefs both prosecuting claims against people and then acting as the ultimate decision maker.

In 2017 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled it was improper for Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to pursue former Attorney General Tom Horne on campaign finance charges at an administrative hearing and then, after the ALJ sided with Horne, overrule that finding.

“We hold that due process does not permit the same individual to issue the initial decision finding violations and ordering remedies, participate personally in the prosecution of the case before an administrative law judge, and then make the final agency decision that will receive only deferential judicial review,” wrote Justice Clint Bolick for the court.

But Dynar said the high court, while siding with Horne and directing there be a new and independent hearing never actually invalidated the law that still allows this process to happen, which is the legal relief he now seeks.

Vets, deregulation, corrections, education top Ducey’s 2020 priorities

Gov. Doug Ducey addresses the Legislature on Monday, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Bowers in the background. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Gov. Doug Ducey addresses the Legislature on Monday, with House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann in the background. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday gave off his sixth State of the State address, reflecting on the last decade and calling to further his universal occupational licensing initiative, trim government and support an economy that grows with Arizona.

“As we enter a new decade, things look a lot different than when we entered the last one,” Ducey said, adding that the state has increased the amount of manufacturing jobs and has led the nation in transportation, science, technology and health care.

“We got here by doing things our way, The Arizona Way. And I’m here to tell you: You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Ducey said.

In his address to the Legislature, Ducey laid out a wide-ranging policy agenda that includes spending priorities in public K-12 and college education, infrastructure, criminal justice, water policy, tax cuts for veterans, and proposing insurers cover mental health.

“We can never repay [veterans], but we can at least do our part to demonstrate our appreciation,” Ducey said. “The government shouldn’t be taxing their service to country, it should be honoring their service to country. Our budget does this, by eliminating all state income taxes on our veterans’ military pensions once and for all.”

By doing this, Ducey hopes to make the state “home base” for veterans across the country and a place where they can get the employment and health care they need, especially treatment for mental illness to help prevent suicide. 

That’s an issue Ducey also hopes to broaden and address across the state by working with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, to require insurance companies to cover mental health as they would physical health.

The speech serves as a rough blueprint for each chamber and will define the direction of the 2020 legislative session.

In attendance were over a dozen guests Ducey invited, including Cindy McCain, Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner, residents of the Navajo Nation, students of Ducey’s teacher academy, Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill. 


Weeks before the speech, Ducey said education was his number one priority and it clearly was – taking up a significant portion of the speech. The goals Ducey set were broad and will be revealed in more detail when his budget is released this week.

Building on a promise Ducey made after the 2019 sine die he plans to expand Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program for students on the Navajo Nation so they can attend a school across the state line into New Mexico. Students in Window Rock had been using voucher money on a school not in the state and received a demanding letter from the Arizona Department of Education requesting the money back or they would lose their ESA.

A last minute bill was introduced and Ducey signed it holding the families harmless from reimbursing the state. The bill gave those students approval to keep spending at the school, which is still on the Navajo Nation, but they would have to find a permanent option for schooling after July 2020. 

“This bill is only a temporary remedy for the children and families who currently participate in the scholarship program. The impacted children will be allowed to attend a school that has served them well for years for just one more school year – all the time knowing that they will not be able to continue, unless a permanent solution is enacted,” Ducey wrote when he signed the bill. 

Ducey said in his speech the program “is truly something that makes Arizona unique.”

“Here, kids are not trapped in failing schools. And despite what you hear from some folks on the national campaign trail, school choice isn’t about charter schools versus private schools versus district schools. It’s about kids and families. “

The demand for school safety grants has far exceeded the $20 million lawmakers allotted, but the Education Department won’t request lawmakers allocate the full $97.5 million it would cost to fund all the requests next year. That is because even if the Governor’s Office and lawmakers decided to shell out enough funding to cover every school’s request, there are too many requests for schools to find people to fill. 

In total, schools requested more than 1,100 positions, 40 percent of which were for counselors, 34 percent were for social workers and another 26 percent were for school resource officers, according to the department. Richie Taylor, Hoffman’s spokesman, said that just like with teachers, there simply aren’t enough cops, social workers and counselors in Arizona to go around.

“The difficulty is even if the governor was going to give us $80 million, which isn’t going to happen, we would run into significant pipeline issues of schools not being able to find people to fill the positions that are funded,” he said. “So there’s a sweet spot in there somewhere that’s more than we have now but less than what was requested.” 

Further complicating the issue, if a district reaches a certain ratio of school resource officers to supervisors it has to hire a sergeant to manage the officers, which isn’t covered under the grant funding.

Economic growth

Part of what has sped the state’s economic progress, Ducey said, is stripping unneeded regulations and “red tape” that hinder business growth and development, which he continued to do on Monday. Ducey said he rescinded 23 executive orders, eliminating 18 boards and commissions he said were unneeded, and 2,289 regulations, the equivalent of $134 million in tax cuts.

He announced he issued a new executive order that requires any government entity that wants a new regulation to identity three it can eliminate. He also called on state boards that are “stock-piling cash and sitting on bank accounts of millions in reserves,” to freeze fees they charge, including occupational licensing fees for all veterans and their families.

Building on the completion of the 202 loop, Ducey announced he would, literally, build bipartisan bridges, namely the one that crosses the Gila River. The new bridge would be part of the state’s larger plan to widen I-10 from Phoenix to Tucson, replacing the 56-year-old one, which 62,000 people drive over every day. 

Ducey laid out earmarks that would theoretically increase economic opportunity for rural Arizonans, which still lack high-speed internet and whose business leaders are, on average, much older than urban and faster growing areas. To help, Ducey said he’s tripling the spending in rural broadband grants and $50 million in “smart highway corridors.

In addition to a $4 million grant for expanding the so-called “manufacturing corridor,” Ducey wants the state to work with Local First Arizona to survey struggling areas with aging business and community leadership to address their needs.


Ducey also said he’s pushing for a few policies that would change the way the state approaches the criminal justice system and the people in it. One change is simple: renaming the state agency that deals with that to the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Re-entry, which some of Ducey’s staff said before the speech aims to clarify the mission of the department and the values it pushes.

More tangibly, Ducey said he wants to give the department $10 million in state money to help staff counselors and start up drug rehabilitation programs to help reduce prison recidivism rates. He also said the state will, at some point, shut down Florence Prison, which is aging.

It wouldn’t be cost-effective to fix it, Ducey and staff said, so they’re going to shut most of it down, keep the death row chamber open, but move prisoners and corrections officers to Eyman Prison and a few other state prisons, and some private prisons.

Where the money for that prison and its resources will go will be detailed in the coming budget. But there was no mention of revamping sentencing laws from Ducey, and his staff said there are no current plans for any.

Child safety

The Department of Child Safety is also getting some help. Ducey is proposing $19 million in new funding for the department, which would go towards a 10 percent raise for caseworkers and more assistance, about 5% more, for kinship care, according to Ducey’s staff. 

Sanctuary cities

Ducey called for the Legislature to approve a ballot referendum, introduced by Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, to allow Arizona residents to decide whether to allow sanctuary cities in the state.  

It’s illegal across the state, but the enforcing language is not voter-protected, meaning that this vote would potentially put that decision in the state constitution, his staff said.


Despite water management being such a hot topic last year, Ducey spent little time talking about it.  

Although the Legislature fast-tracked the delicately debated Drought Contingency Plan, which they couldn’t afford to tweak or reject, its work on water is far from over. Lawmakers’ next urgent issue is managing its depleting groundwater supply in urban and rural areas.

Those who are historically against regulation and government oversight, including rural farmers, Republican lawmakers and Ducey are “open minded” to applying some of the same regulations in urban areas to ensure those places grow responsibly and sustainably.

“We will continue to protect Lake Mead, the Colorado River, groundwater, and our ag jobs,” Ducey said, adding that the state “shouldn’t be dealing with this issue one generation at a time.”

“We need a strategic ongoing effort to turn Arizona into the international capital for water innovation. Look at all  that Israel has accomplished. Why not Arizona? We’ve been a leader on water, and with this approach, we will be an even stronger leader far into the future.”

There are several bills that propose a range of solutions waiting to be heard and there are several committees formed by the Legislature that will set precedent for rural areas and prepare the state for what’s projected to be a hotter and drier future.

Senate Minority Leader David Bradley said Ducey’s speech epitomized the differences in their world views. 

Bradley said Ducey focuses on the economy and sees the $1 billion rainy day fund as government running smoothly, while Democrats see it as the hollowing out of government. 

Bradley said he liked Ducey’s proposal for a stipend for people raising their grandchildren, but it’s an idea he tried to pass 10 years ago and one that a fellow Democrat tried last year. 

“It always amuses me that they abscond with our ideas after they’ve percolated for a few years,” Bradley said. 

Correction: A previous version of a caption for this story erroneously identified Senate President Karen Fann as Karen Bowers.