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In The News

Arizona Governor Signs Bills on DCF Oversight
The Associated Press

PHOENIX — Arizona's child protection system and the people who work in it will be subject to more public and legislative oversight because under new laws signed Tuesday.

Four bills signed by Gov. Janet Napolitano were promoted by supporters as increasing accountability and transparency of state functions to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The bills would increase public access to Child Protective Services information after the death or serious injury of a child.

Others provisions would open some CPS-related court proceedings and allow inspection of state employee disciplinary records.

Lawmakers proposed the legislation in the wake of deaths of three Tucson-area children who were killed, allegedly at the hands of parents, after the families came into contact with CPS.

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Arizona CPS - Governor Gets Four Child-Welfare Bills
Staff and Wire reports

PHOENIX - The Legislature has completed action on the final four bills in a package that supporters said will increase accountability of the state's system for protecting children from abuse and neglect.

"Open government is better government," said Rep. Kirk Adams, a Mesa Republican who sponsored the bills with Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson.

Bipartisan House votes sent the four bills to Gov. Janet Napolitano on Thursday, one day after the Senate approved the last bill in the package.

Napolitano has signed two other bills in the package. Spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer declined to comment on whether the governor would sign the other four.

Adams said he expects Napolitano will sign the bills.

Adams and Paton, the chairman and vice chairman respectively of the House Government Committee, introduced the bills after holding hearings in the wake of the deaths of three Tucson-area children whose families came into contact with Child Protective Services.

Tucson police believe Ariana Payne, 4, and her brother Tyler, 5, were killed by their father, Christopher. In February 2006, CPS workers told Tucson police the children should stay with their father instead of their mother, Jamie Hallam, even though a court had awarded Hallam custody of both. Police said they believe the children died between March and September 2006. Ariana's decomposing body was found in February 2007 in a storage locker. Her brother's body was never found. Their father and his girlfriend, Reina Gonzales, are charged with first-degree murder and prosecutors will seek the death penalty if they're convicted.

Brandon Williams, 5, died March 22, 2007, of injuries to his head and spine and an overdose of cold medicine, according to police and court records. His mother, Diane Lynn Marsh, 40, is awaiting trial on first-degree murder and child abuse charges. Despite CPS caseworkers' concern for Brandon's safety, they were unable to locate him or his mother in the weeks before he died, according to CPS records.

"We can never bring them back but we can try to bring back the public's faith in their government by making it as open, as transparent and as accountable to the people of this state as we can," Paton said.

Key provisions of the bills would:

• Increase public access to CPS information after the death or serious injury of a child.
• Open some CPS-related court proceedings.
• Allow inspection of state employee disciplinary records.
• Impose stronger requirements for law enforcement officials and CPS personnel to work together on child protection matters.

Paton said the additional transparency will help identify problems and solutions in CPS and related government functions, helping to protect children in the future.

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