Some Arizona lawmakers who have criticized Gov. Jan Brewer’s policy decisions in the past, particularly when it comes to her push for expanded Medicaid, are agreeing with points she made in her State of the State address, especially where she prioritized child welfare and education.
Brewer delivered her annual address to state lawmakers to open the new session on Jan. 13.
After investigators declared in November that Child Protective Services (CPS) had failed to look into 6,500 cases of abuse and neglect, Brewer pushed through an executive order to abolish CPS, replacing it with the Child Safety and Family Services Division headed by the state’s Juvenile Corrections director, Charles Flannagan. Flannagan will now report directly to her.
“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. “I call on the legislature to work with me to codify a new permanent agency.”
While some legislators are saying they want more details before supporting such a plan, Rep. Steve Smith, R-District 11, said the concept is something to be enthusiastic about.
“I agree with her that it should be its own standalone division,” said Smith.
“Accountability will then lay with one person and go down from there. That is the most vulnerable population, and the system is in need of a change. That was the highlight of her priorities.”
Adam Kwasman, R-District 11, while supportive, wasn’t surprised by Brewer’s announcement on CPS reform. It has been an ongoing problem for too long, and one that has been recognized on both sides of the political aisle, he said.
“This isn’t a right or left issue, this is a right or wrong issue,” said Kwasman. “Still, we want to make sure the process isn’t done in an executive fiat, and that we do this in the right way to make sure we don’t just rearrange chairs at the detriment of children.”
Kwasman, who is campaigning for the seat of U.S Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz. in Arizona’s first Congressional District, is still battling Brewer’s 2013 decision to sign into law expanded Medicaid.
It’s one of his main priorities as the latest legislative session gets under way at the state capitol.
“We need to keep fighting,” said Kwasman. “The conversation needs to keep happening against a government healthcare program.”
Kwasman is currently working on legislation that would allow Arizonans without health care to negate fines imposed under the Affordable Care Act by writing it off as a standardized deduction on their income tax.
Brewer also outlined her vision for an education funding system that rewards more money to schools whose students perform better on standardized tests.
The proposal, dubbed, Student Success Finding, aligns with a concept that Smith has been promoting in the legislature for three years.
“I agree with the mentality that if we want to truly find and reward the best teachers, and you want to rid the state of having individual pockets of teachers that are doing well, you need a performance pay model,” said Smith. “You want teachers to inspire other teachers to do well. That will inspire the school to become better, which will inspire the district to be better, which will inspire the state to be better. That way you’re not just throwing money at the problem, you’re first identifying the problem.”
Sen. Al Melvin, R- District 1, is one of a handful campaigning to take over Brewer’s gubernatorial position.
He said while he thinks all the blame doesn’t fall on Brewer regarding the CPS debacle, the responsibility was hers to fix.
“She’s the chief executive of the state,” said Melvin. “Just like we hold Obama responsible for the train wreck that is ObamaCare, and how we hold Chris Christie responsible for the bridge ordeal, the chief executive has to take responsibility for what is taking place in her area, though I’m sure it is an accumulative effect. I’m happy to see it moving in the right direction, though.”
Melvin also said he supports looking into implementing a boys and girls ranch in Arizona that would serve as a safe haven for youth at risk of abuse or neglect.
According to Melvin, his decision to run for governor – aside from “protecting the state against Obama” – is to stop the expansion of Medicaid that Brewer last year signed into law.
“That is the biggest threat to our economic future in Arizona,” said Melvin.