Governor approves 31 bills, kills 5, including CPS changes

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z Governor approves 31 bills, kills 5, including CPS changesHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
June 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Wednesday to limit where welfare recipients can use their debit cards, make it easier for patients to compare hospital costs and allow religious schools to fire staff members without paying them unemployment benefits.

But she refused to give churches a property tax break on vacant land they are holding. And Brewer vetoed legislation she said would allow children to be adopted out while their biological parents were still appealing having their children taken from them.

The moves came in a flurry of action by the governor. It included signing 31 measures approved by the Legislature.

But she also rejected five others.

Potentially the most significant of those is her veto of far-reaching changes in Child Protective Services.

Brewer has been a proponent of doing more to ensure that reports of abuse are investigated and children who are in danger are removed from homes, at least temporarily.

HB 2144 would have clarified that the primary purpose of CPS is to protect children. And it laid out priorities to do that, including investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, support appropriate placement of a child for safety, and work with law enforcement and a new Office of Child Welfare Investigations.

But Brewer, in her veto letter, found flaws in the measure.

One would have barred CPS workers from disclosing information about an adoption hearing. The governor said this could prevent "appropriate and necessary disclosures."

But the governor also said she was troubled by a provision that would have allowed courts to grant adoption petitions, even while there were still appeals over terminating the biological parents' rights.

The governor also found herself favoring one measure supported by churches and opposing another.

Brewer agreed to exempt religious organizations from having to provide unemployment insurance to those who work for them in educational and child-care services. The net result will be that those who are fired do not get jobless benefits.

Churches already are exempt from state laws that entitle those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own to benefits. This change extends that from the churches themselves to their schools and child-care operations.

But the governor would not grant a blanket exemption from property taxes to churches for the vacant land they are holding.

Other measures signed Wednesday:

• Require hospitals to provide online or on request the "direct pay" price for the 25 most commonly provided services.

• Bar welfare and food-stamp recipients from using their electronic debit cards at ATMs and cash registers located at liquor stores, casinos and adult-entertainment facilities.

• Phase out the generous Elected Officials Retirement Plan that allows elected officials and lawmakers to retire at 80 percent of their pay after 20 years and provides future cost-of-living adjustments. While nothing changes for those already in office, anyone elected or appointed starting Jan. 1 would instead be put into a "defined contribution" plan, similar to the 401(k) systems.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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