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Friday, February 22, 2008

In Arizona, A Move Toward Some Openness in Child Protective Services...

PHOENIX — A House panel voted Thursday to give the public more access to Child Protective Services records when a child is killed or seriously injured.

But some — including a Tucson legislator — want more.

HB 2765 requires the Department of Public Safety to provide information on request about any fatality or near fatality if it is "reasonably suspected" the assailant was a parent or guardian.

The bill sets up a series of procedures the agency would follow, sets some deadlines and also gives county prosecutors a chance to object if they believe the release would harm efforts to complete an investigation.

The legislation was approved by the House Committee on Human Services on a 7-1 vote.
Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Tucson, who is sponsoring the measure crafted by CPS attorneys, said it is designed to balance the public's right to know with both the needs of county attorneys to successfully prosecute assailants as well as the restrictions of federal law that shield certain personal information from disclosure.

"I think there's real movement here," he said.

But Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, said the procedures in Hershberger's bill likely would delay the release of any information.

The legislation is in direct response to the deaths last year of Brandon Williams and Ariana and Tyler Payne in Tucson. It took a lawsuit by the Arizona Daily Star to force CPS to surrender the documents under the state's Public Records Law.

John Moody who represents the Arizona Newspapers Association said Hershberger's bill removes CPS documents from being subject to the Public Records Law and sets up an entirely separate procedure, one he believes is more cumbersome.

Attorney David Bodney, who represents The Arizona Republic, pointed out the Public Records Law requires documents to be surrendered "promptly." He said while there is no specific time frame, that is bound to be quicker than the procedures in Hershberger's bill.

That bill says that within seven days of a request, CPS must inform the county attorney or the law-enforcement agency reviewing the matter of the intent to release information. That agency then has seven days to decide whether it wants to review the materials before they go out.

Then CPS has another 30 days to gather the information.

What happens next depends on whether police or prosecutors want to redact certain information or object to the records going out, which lands the process in court.

Bodney called that "a bureaucratic maze of deadlines."

More here.

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