Welcome to the first weekly Farley Report of the 51st Legislature, Second Regular Session!
Read on for a rundown of the Governor's priorities as laid out in her State of the State yesterday, her proposed fix of Child Protective Services, and a few developing stories up here at the Capitol.
But first, a Farley Pledge Break:
If you'd like me to continue serving you in the Senate, I need to get re-elected. In order to get re-elected, I need to raise money and sign up volunteers. I won't be asking you to help me with your feet until next spring, but I could use your help now to contribute funds to my campaign. The more you can give now, the less I will have to bother you later!
My opponents (whoever they may be) may get more deep pockets in their corner, but I feel confident I can match them stride for stride with your passion for good governance on my side. Please help me out in any way you can, starting today. Thank you!
On to the latest from under the copper dome…
--> Child Protective Services (CPS): This year's surprise announcement at the Governor's speech yesterday was her executive order starting the process of turning CPS into an independent agency focusing on children and family protection. Like last year's announcement of her intent to expand Medicaid coverage to 350,000 more people, the move was not included in advance copies of the speech.
I think this is a step in the right direction, but it's just the beginning of what needs to be done. Most of us expected the Governor to address the issue in some form, given the scope of the CPS disaster revealed to us over the past few months. In all, more than 6,500 reports of abuse and neglect were intentionally not investigated since 2012, on top of another 10,000 cases still in the investigative pipeline.
Regular Farley Report readers remember my successful actions in December 2012 to convince DES Director Clarence Carter to restore funding to outside agencies providing family visitation services to children in foster care after he had arbitrarily cut them off. Carter had presided over a series of horrible moves for years, so many of us applauded the Governor yesterday for finally taking CPS out of his hands, although he does remain (for the time being) as the head of DES. That is a good first step toward protecting Arizona's kids. But there is much more work to do, and we heard precious few details on how she intends to do that work.
A bureaucratic reorganization will not solve all problems. We need to see commitment on the part of the Governor and the Legislature to get all remaining backlogged cases investigated to assure there are no kids known to us who are in imminent danger. We need to provide more support to overworked staffers, and hire more caseworkers to help with caseloads that are nearly twice as high as the US average for child welfare agencies. We need to partner with foster parents and community groups.
And we need to restore prevention programs that have been proven to work to keep kids out of trouble in the first place. Arizona has seen our rates of kids in trouble skyrocket while rates in all other states are declining. Our abuse cases have remained flat, while cases of neglect account for almost all of our increase. This correlates directly with the elimination of child care subsidies in the state budget. After those funds disappeared, more and more parents could not afford child care so they were given the choice between either staying home to take care of their kids with no money for food or shelter, or going to work to earn money but leaving the kids at home alone.
That problem has one easy solution -- restore the childcare subsidies so parents can work and kids remain safe. That's also a wise economic choice -- kids in the foster care system cost the state a lot more money than kids on a childcare subsidy. I sure hope that the Governor's budget contains that funding.
There are many other programs cut recently by the legislative majority that serve as wise investments to save money while keeping kids safe, like Healthy Families, a program that kept kids safely in their original homes. So when I hear legislative leaders say "you can't throw money at the problem," I remind them that you can't steal money from the solutions either -- a strategy employed far too often by legislative majorities over the past several years which has resulted in the endangerment of thousands of kids today.
--> The governor's other priorities: Gov. Brewer mentioned a number of important topics like transportation, water, and energy, but failed to put forth any major initiatives in those areas. I was particularly disappointed that she failed to address the impending transportation funding crisis on any level.
She did talk about the need for full implementation of the assessment for the new Common Core standards in K-12 and the need for more funding for education, but that funding will be tied to some form of performance plan. The devil is most certainly in the details in that kind of plan, since the structure of last year's version (funded as a pilot program) would have boosted wealthy districts while hurting impoverished districts, something that would exacerbate many of our education and societal problems.
Performance-based funding also gained a mention for universities, but that is another place where we need details. Last year, this plan would have left UofA with flat revenues, while ASU gained big time. And the only funding mentioned for community colleges (who have lost 75% of their funding over the last five years) was STEM money for rural colleges.
The Governor's budget will be released Friday, so I will be most interested in the spreadsheets of who gets what and who doesn't get what. Watch for a full report on her proposed winners and losers next week.
--> The usual shenanigans: Late this afternoon, we got word that the majority is already fast-tracking a bill to use taxpayer money to pay the legal bills of any Republican legislator involved in the current case to overturn SB1070. Nine current and 12 former Republican legislators have been issued subpoenas in the Valle del Sol v Whiting federal lawsuit to turn over their personal emails and notes about 1070 as a way of seeking evidence of overt racial bias.
This bailout seems driven by the same folks who sought for several years to pay taxpayer money to former Senate President Russell Pearce for the costs of his losing recall election. The bill is on track to be approved as early as next week, and would go into effect on the governor's signature, long before any proposed measure to fix CPS or anything else. It's mighty sad what gets determined as an emergency priority up here.
--> Bills I have filed so far: I have filed eight bills so far, and plan to file my remaining 11 bills by late next week. Here is a brief rundown of the numbers they have been assigned so you can follow their progress at azleg.gov as they move forward (or don't). Note there is a new Request to Speak system where you can register your opinions online to the Legislature regarding bills. I will tell you more about how you can put that tool to work next week.
SB1029 TPT exemption; four-inch pipe; repeal
SB1030 solar school grant program
SB1031 license plate covers; prohibition
SB1032 special license plates; standard design
SB1033 large electronics recycling program
SB1034 financial disclosure; model legislation; lobbying (the ALEC Accountability Act)
SB1036 racketeering; animal fighting; cockfighting (adding animal fighting to RICO statutes)
SB1037 animal abuser registration; registry
--> And finally, you are all invited to join me tomorrow (Wednesday) night for the first of several monthly parties highlighting the great local merchants in the vicinity of future Tucson Streetcar stations. Friends of the Tucson Streetcar, a broad-based coalition I helped to found (with members ranging from the Tucson Association of Realtors to the Sierra Club) that aims to educate Tucsonans about the benefits of our streetcar, will be sponsoring "Streetcar Celebration: Destination Main Gate," from 4-7pm (as the full moon rises!) on January 15 on University Boulevard near the University/Tyndall Streetcar stop.
There will be music and entertainment and you will get to see one of our streetcars up close. Many shops and restaurants in the area will be offering special streetcar deals, and you can get a free Streetcar Friends keychain if you sign on as part of our coalition! Find out more by clicking this link. I hope to see you there.
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
Paid for by Friends O'Farley