Calling the spending premature and perhaps unnecessary, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a measure Wednesday to hire an outside expert to study the state's child welfare agency.
The governor said efforts already are underway to figure out what went wrong with the old Child Protective Services that led to nearly 6,600 complaints of abuse and neglect going uninvestigated despite state laws to the contrary. And she said there is a separate panel looking at her plan to create an entirely new Department of Child Safety and Family Services.
“Given the reality of limited resources and staff capacity, it is important to consider all the child welfare reforms comprehensively,” Brewer wrote in her veto message.
Wednesday's veto of the study comes weeks before Brewer is expected to call lawmakers into special session in May to create that new agency. She wants not only to replace the old CPS, which has been part of the Department of Economic Security, but also have an agency headed by someone who reports directly to her.
Brewer wants lawmakers to take another look at her request to provide $80 million in new funds for child welfare. The budget approved last month had just $59 million, with lawmakers deferring action on the balance, including hiring new caseworkers, until the special session.
That session is awaiting the final report of a special panel to decide how the new agency should function and what are its fiscal needs.
Most lawmakers are willing to go along, but Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who sought the $250,000 for the outside study, said he wanted to be sure that this move is more than simply giving the old agency a new name without changing how it operates.
His legislation had sought to require an outside consultant to examine how the state has been doing things until now and come up with ways to better protect child safety.
These include creating “accountability systems” to prevent a repeat of the uninvestigated complaints. The practice went on for years before being discovered.
Without that outside look at the agency Biggs wanted, some legislators may be reticent to create a new agency and add the millions of dollars more that the governor wants.
Biggs said while the study need not be done before the agency is created, he believes it remains necessary. And he said that study should be done by those “outside the system ... who have no vested interest” in how the $700 million a year agency operates.
“They could give us some ideas of what we're doing right, what we're doing wrong,” Biggs said.
The Senate president said he will not try to block a special session to create the new agency because Brewer vetoed his study. But Biggs said he hopes the governor will agree to the study — and the funding — as part of that session.
The governor did pen her approval to several other measures on Wednesday including:
- making it a misdemeanor to point a laser at an occupied aircraft and declaring it to be assault, with felony penalties, if it leaves the pilot unable to pilot the plane;
- establishing regulations and insurance requirements for commercially operated trampoline centers;
- allowing optometrists to prescribe certain drugs whose use is now limited to ophthalmologists and others who are medical doctors;
- requiring counties of at least 150,000 which have three-member boards of supervisors to ask voters whether to increase the board to five;
- outlawing “revenge porn” where someone posts or post naked images of someone else on the Internet without that person's permission;
- making it a crime to provide someone else the physical means to commit suicide knowing that is the other person's intent;
- creating a memorial to honor the 19 Granite Mountain hotshots killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire.
But the governor nixed a change in tax law that would have allowed businesses to immediately write off — and deduct from their taxable income — the cost of new equipment worth up to $500,000, 20 times more than now allowed. Brewer said the move would cost the state $25 million, money she said is needed for that new child welfare agency.