Arizona lawmakers appear finally ready to regulate “sober living’’ home statewide – in 2020.
But under city Councilman Sal DiCiccio’s prodding, Phoenix may beat the state to it.
Without dissent, the House Health Committee agreed last week to have the Department of Health Services license the facilities that have popped up in the past few years around the state. HB 2529 now goes to the full House.
The move comes two years after lawmakers, unwilling at the time to impose state oversight, gave cities and counties the option to register these facilities designed to provide a place for people to live while they deal with alcohol and drug abuse problems.
Several communities have taken advantage of the power after a proliferation of the homes, which, unlike licensed addiction clinics, have no full-time medical staff or even programs for the people who live there.
The problem became particularly acute in Arcadia last year, and DiCiccio, whose district includes that neighborhood, began pressing the city Law Department to propose regulations that would prevent several homes from being established in one small neighborhood.
“We have been working closely with the state developing their bill as well as our city codes and ordinances, and this legislation was specifically written in response to the effort started here in Phoenix,” DiCiccio’s chief of staff, Sam Stone, said.
At its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26 at Pecos Community Center, the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee will get a preview of what changes in the city zoning code will be put before the Planning Commission to tighten control over the sober living homes.
If the commission approves the regulations, they would then go to City Council.
“Our office has worked closely with members of the Legislature, in particular Sen. Kate Brophy-McGee, in helping guide the creation of this legislation,” said DiCiccio, who has been working with various groups that help addicts – including the Salvation Army.
“Though there are still some tweaks to the bill that need to be made, I am very pleased with the direction the Legislature has taken, and look forward to working with them during the floor amendment process to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect both the residents of these homes, and the neighborhoods around them.”
Very often, the homes collect Medicare and Medicaid payments from their residents with not even meals included, DiCiccio has said in the past.
Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, who crafted the 2016 measure, said that law has had the desired effect. Campbell said his community, which had about 200 of these operations at the time, now has fewer than 50.
“The bad actors in this industry decided to move on,’’ he told colleagues.
But it was precisely that action that helped Campbell get the votes for this new, more comprehensive plan.
He said those homes are now popping up around the state. And the “bad actors’’ are causing problems in other communities, getting the attention of the other legislators who were not interested in regulation two years ago.
Under the new scheme, these homes would have to not only be inspected but also have background checks on staffers. There also would be requirements to test residents for alcohol and drugs, a mandate to maintain a safe environment for the surrounding community and even a requirement for a “good neighbor’’ policy to address the concerns and complaints of nearby residents.
Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, said sober living homes exist in a sort of regulatory vacuum.
She said if they actually provided medical services, they already would be subject to state oversight. Conversely, if they were simply apartment buildings, there would be no need.
“There’s this giant section of real life out there where people just need a place to live,’’ Carter said.
She said it is not in their interest to simply move into someone else’s home because having other tenants who might be using drugs or alcohol would “challenge their sobriety because they’re not in a place where it’s conducive for them to become sober.’’
“We’re trying to make Arizona a safe place for people to get sober,’’ Carter said.
Campbell said communities cannot keep them out entirely because they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“They have a right to be there,’’ he said.
“But we also have a right to make sure they’re good neighbors, that they have health and safety policies in effect, that they have a discharge policy in effect so it doesn’t affect the neighborhood,’’ Campbell continued. “A good home, you won’t even know it’s there.’’