ONE STEP CLOSER: Campbell’s sober-living home bill awaits Ducey’s signature

Noel Campbell

Noel Campbell

A bill that Arizona Rep. Noel Campbell said would provide a “backstop” for cities and counties in their regulation of sober-living homes got the final OK from the House of Representatives Friday, May 6.

The bill, House Bill 2107, is now headed to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office for a signature.

Campbell, who sponsored the bill earlier this year, said Friday afternoon that he sees 2107 as a “first step” in the efforts to get a better handle on the structured sober living homes.

The bill, if signed by the governor, will give cities and counties the authority to implement ordinances that would raise standards for sober living homes. “It is the backstop that the city needs to go forward,” Campbell said in telephone interview from the floor of the House Friday afternoon.

While the state already requires licensing for inpatient facilities and detox centers, it has no such requirement for structured sober-living homes or halfway homes, which make up the majority of the 170 group homes that currently operate in Prescott.

Prescott Mayor Harry Oberg said Friday that he was happy to learn of the bill’s

approval. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to have passed,” he said, noting that he testified in favor of heightened state legislation at the ad hoc committee that looked into the group home matter this past year He added that he planned to call Ducey Friday afternoon to ask him to sign the bill.

The bill likely would lead to three proposed city ordinances, Oberg said.

Among them would be: an ordinance that would require house managers at sober living homes to be certified at a minimum level of training; an ordinance that would require sufficient staffing (having a staff member awake at all hours); and an ordinance that would require the home to have an “exit plan” for clients who leave the program.

Depending on the governor’s signature, Oberg estimated that it would be at least 90 days before the ordinances would go to the City Council for consideration.

Campbell says all of the proposed Prescott ordinances would be allowed under HB 2107. “The bill is very broad,” he said. “Cities can make reasonable demands.”

Throughout the discussion, Campbell has emphasized that the bill was “permissive,” meaning that municipalities and counties could opt to take on the added regulations if they so choose, but would not be required to do so.

Campbell said Friday that he is “very optimistic” that the bill would help local governments to better handle the group home issue. “I’m giving them a vehicle to do that,” he said.

Still, Campbell noted that the bill might not be the end of legislation on the issue. He said it is possible he would introduce new legislation in the next session. “It all depends on what the city does, and what resistance they get,” he said.

After an earlier version of a group-home bill failed in the last legislative session, Campbell began work this past summer on a new bill aimed to help communities such as Prescott get a better handle on the proliferation of sober-living homes.

HB 2107 has generated plenty of debate during its months-long progression through the legislature. In early House and Senate committee hearings, recovery industry representatives from the Phoenix area voiced strong opposition, maintaining that the mandatory registration mentioned in the original bill would be discriminatory under the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

That led to amendments in the bill, which made the language less specific, and also referred to the U.S. Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – federal laws that protect those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction from discrimination.

The amended bill reads: “A city or town may adopt by ordinance standards for structured sober living homes that comply with the state and federal fair housing laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The House approved the bill, as amended, by a 42-12 vote. While some opposition remained this week, Campbell said the bill “had bipartisan support here in the House.”

He attributed the support from Oberg, as well as from the local recovery industry through the Northern Arizona Recovery Association, as being instrumental in getting the bill approved.