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11:12 AM Thu, Jan. 17th

Committee recommends giving local governments more control on group home regulation

Local - rather than state - authority was central to the recommendation of a state legislative committee on the regulation of group homes.

In its fourth and final meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday, Nov. 18, the state Ad Hoc Committee on Drug Rehab Recovery Homes voted to recommend to the Arizona State Legislature that cities, towns, and counties be given more authority to regulate sober-living homes.

State Rep. Noel Campbell, who had pushed for a bill that would raise the state's licensing and registration requirements for group homes, said Wednesday that he ultimately determined that his initial plan would not be successful in the legislature.

"Licensing is not going to happen, because the political powers that be, saw (group homes) as a local issue rather than a statewide issue," Campbell said, noting that he had talked to "many, many people in the senate" about the matter.

The City of Prescott has dealt in recent years with a proliferation of group homes, many of which are not required to be licensed by the state.

At the third ad hoc committee meeting earlier this month, a number of Prescott residents testified about the negative impacts the unregulated sober-living homes were having on their neighborhoods.

Although Prescott recently imposed stricter zoning regulations for new homes, city officials have maintained that municipalities do not have the authority to require registration, or to require higher levels of supervision at the homes.

Campbell, who lives in Prescott, took on the issue in this past year's legislative session with a bill that aimed at requiring more statewide regulation, but the bill stalled in the senate. Formation of the ad hoc committee - made up of legislators, industry representatives, and municipal officials - was an attempt to deal with some of the issues before the start of the 2016 legislative session.

Basically, Campbell said, he and a majority of other ad hoc committee members voted to recommend a bill that would create a state statute enabling counties and municipalities to heighten their own regulations on group homes. For instance: required registration; and enforcement on health, safety, and personnel requirements.

"This would give them more power to regulate by requiring registration, and to look at issues that might go on inside the homes," Campbell said, adding that cities and counties would have the option on whether to impose the stricter regulations. "It would be only if the cities and towns want to do this," he said.

State Sen. Steve Pierce, a member of the ad hoc committee, cautioned that many steps would have to occur before the recommendation could become law.

"There's a lot of work to do yet," Pierce said after the meeting. "A bill has to be drafted, it has to be assigned to a (legislative) committee, and there will be a lot more public input. And then, it goes to the floor."

Pierce voted for the recommendation, and said afterward, "I think it's fine; it's very broad."

Noting that he does not like to see unnecessary legislation, Pierce said he still would like to ensure that the recommendation is the best way to handle the situation. "I want to make sure that there's not an easier way to do it," he said.

Along with the vote on the recommendation, this week's committee meeting focused on the insurance-coverage aspects of the group home issue. From the comments of industry representatives, Campbell said, "They are aware of the problems and want to stay on top of it."

Although the recommendation would not achieve what Campbell initially set out to do, he said it would be "taking a bite out of the apple."

Deputy City Manager Alison Zelms, who served on the committee, and other City of Prescott officials were unavailable for comment about the recommendation Wednesday.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-642-0951.