Nov. 15 marked the beginning of the Arizona legislature’s bill prefiling period for the 2022 legislative session. Two health-related bills, House Bills (HB) 2006 and 2007, were both prefiled on Nov. 17 and sponsored by Rep. Walter Blackman (R – Scottsdale) and Rep. Diego Rodriguez (D – Phoenix).
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HB 2006 concerns the state prison health care system. The bill prevents the Department of Corrections from entering into a contract with a private entity to administer correctional health care services and requiring the Department to administer all correctional health services themselves.
Rep. Rodriguez, who prefiled these bills just before he resigned to run for Arizona’s Attorney General, said he has been trying to pass this bill for the last several sessions. He said the ongoing trial over the quality of prison health care in the state is a prime example of why the bill is necessary.
“The issue in Arizona has really come down to a total lack of accountability within the present health care system. We don’t have solid numbers to even give an accurate assessment of how effective or ineffective this third party vendor health care system has been performing, but we do know that there are enough documented issues that we’ve had at least three different vendors over the time period of these contracts. And the ongoing federal trial has been documenting just a parade of abuses and oversights by the vendors.”
HB 2007 concerns drug violations in schools. It says that, upon observing a drug violation, a school administrator should either immediately report the violation to a peace officer or, if the violation involves a student, refer the student to an appropriate program for at-risk students. Rep. Rodriguez said:
“At the end of the day, they’re still children. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to automatically put children in the criminal justice system when you see a red flag, like a child in possession of a drug. Obviously, that child is not getting it on their own. They’re getting it from somewhere else. And there’s a reason why they’re ingesting those drugs. And what we’ve learned over the past decade or so through research is that most people are self medicating as a result of trauma, when it comes to their initial use of drugs or and or alcohol.
So, if we’re looking at this in terms of how [to] address an issue with this child in a way that gives them the best opportunity to move forward in a healthy and productive way, that allows them to thrive and maybe even identifies the trauma that they’ve gone through or going through, the criminal justice system is not designed to do that. So in my opinion, it was an easy decision. [By sponsoring] this bill, we give the schools the chance to give the children the help that they need.”
Rep. Rodriguez also emphasized the bipartisan collaboration that took place in developing these bills.
“… [Rep. Blackman and I] both wanted to send the continuing message that issues of this type concern citizens from both parties. And so if we’re trying to model behavior in terms of showing that there are ways that people can come together over common causes, like keeping children out of the criminal justice system, helping them get the treatment, or helping them get resources or getting out of an environment where they’re in danger, or correcting the abuses that are going on in that prison system, we want to send the message that this isn’t a Republican issue. It isn’t a Democrat issue. It’s just an issue of improving the lives of every Arizonan.”