Arizona session preview: Rethinking child protection


Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

When they return to session this coming week, Arizona legislators will set aside divisive fights over Medicaid expansion that dominated the last year to focus on something a little more immediate: The safety and security of kids in the state’s foster care system.

Gov. Jan Brewer (R) announced this month a wholesale overhaul of the state’s Child Protective Service after revelations in December that more than 6,000 allegations of abuse lodged with a service hotline went uninvestigated. In its place, Brewer created a new Cabinet-level department, the Division of Child Safety and Family Services, to handle everything from adoption to foster care to abuse claims.

Brewer, in her state of the state speech this week, asked the legislature to provide the new department with the funding it needs to pick up where CPS left off.

“The time has come to statutorily establish a separate agency that focuses exclusively on the safety and well-being of children, and helping families in distress without jeopardizing child safety,” Brewer said, calling child safety a “legal and moral duty.”

The quick and bipartisan action expected on the new child safety division isn’t likely to infuse the legislature with lasting good will. Sour feelings over Brewer’s move to expand Medicaid to those making less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level last year has led local Republican Party organizations to sanction legislators who voted with Brewer, and several will face tough primary challenges later this year.

The Arizona Republic’s Mary Jo Pitzl sketches out the GOP divide:

[Conservative Republicans have] been pressuring House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, to take punitive action against the nine Republicans who broke from the caucus’ position, sided with Brewer and voted with Democrats on Medicaid.

Their preferred target: Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, whom they want removed as chairman of the House Rules Committee. All bills approved by committees pass through Rules, giving that chairman a powerful role.

So far, Tobin has not made any changes.

The Senate also split on the Medicaid issue, with five Republicans breaking from the caucus position and voting for Medicaid expansion.

Driggs and Senate Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix, were among them, exposing not only a GOP rift but also a division in the GOP leadership.

Most lawmakers say that the split is history and that this is a new year with a unified resolve to work quickly and end the session in early spring, leaving plenty of time to campaign before the August primary.

Brewer will unveil her budget proposal today, touching off an annual fight over spending levels sure to influence many of those primaries. Brewer will push to cut taxes that manufacturers pay for power, and to stabilize in-state tuition at the state’s four-year colleges.

Beyond the legislature, several other statewide contests will also color the legislature’s actions in Brewer’s final year in office. The governor’s office, the secretary of state’s office and the state treasurer’s office are all open, and Attorney General Tom Horne (R) could face a difficult reelection battle, too, making Arizona one of the more intriguing states with top offices up in the 2014 elections.

At least five incumbent legislators, including Tobin, are running for statewide or federal office.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson | January 17