Extension for Az School for the Deaf and Blind signed into law, Hobbs critical of GOP lawmakers
Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill that will continue operations for the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind, but not before criticizing lawmakers for treating the deaf, blind and deaf-blind community with a “lack of respect” by subjecting it to a protracted and unexpected battle over the schools future.
“The ASDB community was treated with a lack of respect and was not given equal access to participate in the legislative process,” Hobbs said in her signing letter for House Bill 2456.
As part of the periodic sunset process for state agencies, lawmakers were tasked with evaluating the school and determining how long its operations should continue before the next review. State law limits extensions to 10 years, but lawmakers have historically extended state agencies for eight years at a time — a figure that coincides with legislative term limits.
The continuation for ASDB was no different, with the House in February unanimously approving the bill to extend the school’s operations for eight years. But the proposal stagnated in the Senate, where GOP leaders refused to consider it, and proponents were given no explanation why.
Eventually, Republican senators took up the legislation, but the Senate Government Committee amended it to limit the extension to just two years, citing a nebulous need for more oversight of the school’s operations, even though a sunset audit found no significant issues. Eventually the bill was amended to extend it for four years.
“Parents, students, and teachers were made to worry about the continuing existence of their school while caught in the middle of political games being played by a fringe minority of the Legislature,” Hobbs said.
ASDB, which was founded in 1912, the same year Arizona became a state, serves approximately 2,100 students across the state, which makes up about 85% of the state’s deaf and deaf blind youth population. The Arizona Constitution requires the state to offer education to deaf and blind students.
Republican lawmakers have argued that the shorter extension is needed to provide better oversight of the school.
The audit of ASDB raised no serious red flags, but found that it has “millions of dollars in capital improvement needs, including buildings that are vacant, underutilized, or that present health and safety concerns.”
The auditors recommended that the school “develop and implement a comprehensive, multi-year capital plan that assesses, identifies, and documents its capital needs.” Money to fund those plans would have to come from the GOP-controlled legislature.
“I encourage the legislature to reflect on the passage of HB2456 and send me a bill next session that includes a full eight-year continuation,” Hobbs said.
On the House floor, multiple Democrats and at least one Republican said that they were hoping to do just that next session, even hinting at using it as “leverage” against the Senate.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.