PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona legislators approved a massive overhaul of the state's child welfare agency Thursday, months after revelations that thousands of abuse and neglect reports had gone uninvestigated.
The two bills approved by the House and Senate will create and fund a new Department of Child Safety to replace the old Child Protective Services department. The new agency will be funded at a total of $834 million.
The legislation now heads to Gov. Jan Brewer, who is expected to sign it. The Republican called the Legislature into a special session this week to address the overhaul.
Brewer made a surprise appearance on the House floor as legislators cast their final votes, thanking them for their work.
"It's a big day. I think it's a history-making day," she said.
Brewer proposed the overhaul after revelations late last year that more than 6,500 abuse and neglect reports were closed without investigation by the old CPS.
Brewer set up a temporary department in January under Charles Flanagan, the former head of the state's juvenile corrections department. He will also head the new agency.
The House vote came after the Senate nearly unanimously approved the new agency and an extra $60 million in funding. However, the Senate stripped out an extra $3 million it had approved the day before. The $3 million was for prevention services that included child care subsidies, stipends for grandparents caring for their grandchildren and out-of-home care. Democrats had argued in favor of spending on preventative programs, saying it saves money by keeping children from being neglected.
The main bill setting up the agency passed unanimously in both chambers, and just one Senator voted against the bill funding the agency in the Senate. Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said she voted against the bill because her amendment increasing accountability failed.
Final votes came on the third day of the session and after many speeches by legislators who called the new agency a historic advancement. They also applauded Flanagan for the job he has done so far and reminded him he still has a lot of work to do.
"It will take diligence. It will take perseverance. It will take vigilance. It will take a lot of effort," Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said.