Arizona House Republicans blocked action Wednesday on Senate proposals to reform Child Protective Services and to ease prison overcrowding, ra ising questions about whether anything will be done on those issues this year.
The Senate voted 25-2 Wednesday morning for a $21 million plan endorsed by Gov. Janet Napolitano to reform CPS.
That followed last week’s Senate approval of $20 million for temporary prison beds that also has the governor’s support.
But the House didn’t hold anticipated party caucuses on the CPS measure. Instead, the House adjourned until 2 p.m. today.
A conference committee to resolve differences on the prison bill didn’t meet because of GOP efforts behind closed doors to find a compromise that Napolitano wouldn’t veto.
Lawmakers and other state officials are starting to worry about how long the Legislature will continue working in a special session that already has lasted 52 days. House Speaker Jake Flake, RSnowflake, said many people have out-of-town holiday plans beginning next week.
"We’re doing the best we can," Flake said. "But I personally warned the governor about this 60 days ago."
Napolitano tried to encourage movement on both plans Wednesday with a private, 45-minute visit to Flake’s office. The governor said beforehand the House should act quickly on the CPS plan for fundamental reform that would require a formal investigation of every report of child abuse or neglect.
"The fact that the Senate voted 25-2 shows that it’s an amazing compromise, that it’s good for Arizona’s children," Napolitano said.
The Senate proposal would provide about two-thirds of the $35.5 million that Napolitano requested when she called the special session. The plan includes $13.5 million to cover predicted shortfalls through February in the agency’s $250 million budget. Another $7.5 million would allow CPS to hire an additional 216 employees and raise the pay of foster parents.
Many House Republicans are alarmed that the CPS proposal includes 10 times the amount of funding narrowly approved by the House last week. Several lawmakers said Wednesday they have spent weeks reviewing information from CPS officials, but still haven’t received clear explanations on why the agency expects to exceed its approved budget by at least $20 million for a second straight year.
"What’s wrong for us waiting to have accountability, to have the agency reformed and fixed prior to just writing blank checks to it," said Republican Rep. Steve Tully, whose district includes Paradise Valley and central Phoenix. "It’s fine to provide additional money for the new requirements we’re adding onto the agency. But it’s another thing to say, ‘OK, we’ve done our analysis, we know you guys are poorly managed, but we’re going to give you a bunch of money anyway.’ How prudent is that?"
On the prisons issue, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he believes GOP negotiations are close to a deal.
But he said the Legislature shouldn’t be pressured into an expensive plan for only temporary beds when the governor already has the authority to contract for two new private prisons.
"She has solutions at her fingertips and has refused to use them," Pearce said. "We’re trying to find a fair deal at the best price for taxpayers."
Unlike her predecessor, Napolitano has said she doesn’t believe private prisons save money over public facilities.
State prison officials also have said any new prisons couldn’t be built quickly enough to deal with an overcrowding problem that affects 4,200 inmates.