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Arizona lawmaker calls for stronger vetting of Southwest Key employees

Posted at 3:30 PM, Feb 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-04 00:20:12-05

TUCSON, Ariz. - A state lawmaker has introduced legislation that calls for more vetting of employees at Southwest Key. It's being backed by Southwest Key.

This comes after abuse allegations -- and convictions -- at the facilities that house migrant children, and the state Department of Health Services moving to revoke licenses last year.

SB 1247 was introduced by Arizona State Senator Kate Brophy McGee to address problems at Southwest Key facilities. She's calling for stronger vetting of employees.

"There's been a serious lack of oversight within Southwest Keys," Brophy McGee said in a phone interview with KGUN9.

Because the children are in the custody of the federal government, Brophy McGee says she started looking into what the state could do, to ensure the safety of the children.

Under SB 1247, employees at Southwest Key would have to pass background checks, central registry checks, and have a valid fingerprint card.

Last October, Southwest Key announced the closure of two Arizona facilities after they failed to confirm all their employees had gone through proper vetting processes.

"Going forward, if they follow the provisions of the legislation, I think it will ensure that the children -- these very vulnerable children that are within their custody -- are safe," Brophy McGee said.

Brophy McGee said she started working on the bill since last summer amid allegations of abuse at Southwest Key facilities. Since then, she says she has met with Southwest Key officials three times.

A former employee was convicted of sexually abusing seven teenage boys at a facility in Mesa and sentenced to 19 years in prison on Feb. 1.

"While the children in these facilities are in federal custody, and we cannot take custody of them, we CAN ensure that the facilities in which they are housed are safe and that the employees of those facilities are safe for the children as well," Brophy McGee said in a statement.

Southwest Key spokesperson Jeff Eller provided the following statement on SB1247:

“Senator Brophy McGee’s proposed legislation increases transparency, accountability and protects children. We support this bill and believe it’s a positive step forward.”

Brophy McGee says the bill could be passed by August or September, and the rules would also apply to other migrant shelters in Arizona.

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