Senate panel gives OK to Ducey's inspector general plan

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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's plan to create a new badge-carrying inspector general with the ability to investigate all state agencies emerged as full-fledged legislation and received approval from a Senate committee Wednesday.

The move came as the Legislature enters its final weeks of the session, and despite the opposition of Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a fellow Republican.

"Arizona already has an independent law enforcement agency to investigate fraud and criminal activity; it's the Attorney General's Office," Brnovich said.

Ducey said in his January State of the State address that he wanted an independent IG to act as a watchdog for taxpayers and investigate government waste, fraud and abuse. But the proposal didn't re-emerge until this week, when language creating the office was substituted on an unrelated bill.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said the delay in introducing legislation was simply to get the policy right.

"He made it clear in his State of the State that this was something that was a priority," Scarpinato said. "And this is something that's good for the taxpayers, good for the state, and it will provide an additional check and balance."

House Bill 2420 passed on a 4-3 party-line vote, with the three Democrats on the Senate's government committee opposed.

By introducing the policy using a "strike-everything" amendment, the bill will avoid House committee hearings, getting only Wednesday's Senate hearing.

Critics said that would limit the amount of time available for the public and interested parties to digest the details of the proposal and consider possible problems, but Scarpinato insisted the bill would be properly vetted.

The proposal will create an office with from five to seven employees, given police powers to investigate and subpoena records. Scarpinato said unfilled slots at state agencies that already have inspectors general will be used, so it will not cost additional money.

The office will be charged with investigating not only state agencies but contractors, subcontractors and others receiving state money for services. It will review policies and procedures, receive complaints of waste, fraud and abuse involving state agencies and establish a system for anonymous reporting.

According to the language in the amendment, the inspector general will be required to submit an annual report to Ducey and the Legislature.

But the bill also allows the IG to keep records confidential, raising concerns that the new agency will operate in secrecy.

Ted Vogt, Ducey's director of operations, testified that a floor amendment will be introduced to require finalized investigation reports to be publicly released.

That didn't mollify an attorney for the Arizona Republic and KPNX-TV, Chris Moeser, who said he hoped the amendment offers even more transparency.

"What's important is once that investigation is complete ... that the public will be able to see the documents that support the findings made by the inspector general," Moeser said.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is sponsoring the amendment. He said with criminal investigations it makes sense to keep the documents secret.

The proposal now goes to the full Senate after a routine constitutional review.

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