Gov. Brewer overhauls Child Protective Services

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer used her annual State of the State address Monday to announce decisive action to overhaul the state's child welfare agency, pulling Child Protective Services from its current department and placing it under the oversight of a new Cabinet-level post reporting directly to the governor.

Brewer called the executive order that "abolished CPS as we know it" a critical step to protect children in the state, a move made more pressing by the discovery in November of more than 6,500 uninvestigated child abuse and neglect reports.

She named the head of the state's juvenile corrections department to head the new unit and asked the Legislature to help her do more to overhaul the agency.

"We need to go even further. 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. Child safety must be the priority and become embedded in the fabric of this new agency. It is our legal and moral duty."

Brewer also laid out other parts of her agenda for 2014, including boosting the economy by creating more business incentives, eliminating a utility tax for manufacturers and changing the way K-12 schools are funded.

During the address, Brewer touted the state's recent economic growth, casting it as a result of business-friendly legislation in recent years.

"Our message to job creators has been heard: Arizona is open for business," she said. "We now have more jobs, more businesses and more opportunities for growth and prosperity."

The Republican governor then asked lawmakers for a new package of business incentives, saying they are setting the tone for job creation for years to come with their actions this session.

"What we are doing today will set the tone for Arizona's economy and job creation for years," she said.

On education, Brewer wants the Legislature to pass a funding plan that includes more cash for schools that perform above standards. Brewer says her plan will reward improved student performance and give incentives for success.

She floated a similar proposal last year but it gained little traction in the Legislature.

Brewer also has called for the state's three public universities to adopt a tuition plan that assures that students' costs don't increase during the four years it should take for them to earn a degree.

Brewer says 3 in 5 Arizona jobs will require a college degree by 2018 and the state needs to boost its education system to ensure new workers have the skills they need.

"Our children must be better prepared for the challenging and competitive world they will soon enter," she said.

Lawmakers on Monday were considering the speech, which lays out the governor's legislative agenda.

"I heard a lot of rhetoric up there," said Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, the minority leader. "The only concrete thing I heard was she created a new agency, which I don't know what that means, and she's pushing the (tuition) plan that I've been pushing for two years."

House Speaker Andy Tobin said he's hoping there's more to the governor's agenda than the items she ticked off Monday, including restoring roadway funding to counties, more cash for rural areas and forestry and technical jobs education.

"The governor did a good job with her speech," said Tobin, R-Paulden.

"At the end of the day we have some more things to discuss," he added.

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