Tue, Aug. 20

Rep. Campbell seeks further regulation on sober living homes

PHOENIX -- Saying it’s an insurance scam, a Prescott lawmaker wants to make it illegal for sober living homes and similar day-treatment centers to pay people for referrals.

Rep. Noel Campbell acknowledged that placing limits on referral fees runs contrary to the Republican philosophy of less regulation. In fact, his HB 2333 comes on the heels of the state House voting to remove all limits on how much apartment owners can pay for leads that bring them new tenants.

But Campbell said this is different.

“This is kind of a shady industry,’’ he said, especially outpatient treatment programs that bill themselves as able to help people with addiction.

“They have people, brokers or younger kids go out and find other kids that are in distress with drug addiction problems and they pay them, sometimes up to $5,000 to have this kid brought to them,’’ Campbell explained. But he said it’s not like the operators of these facilities are necessarily interested in helping all comers.

“The kid who’s brought to them has to have insurance and money,’’ Campbell said. “It’s just a way to get at the money on the insurance.’’

The measure has some real teeth.

Referrals of more than $1,000 would be a Class 3 felony, with a presumptive prison term of 3 1/2 years for a first-time offense -- and a possible 8 years and 9 months for aggravated violations.

Even a referral of less than $100 would remain a Class 6 felony which carries a presumptive one-year behind bars.

Campbell, who shepherded through legislation last year allowing cities to have some oversight of these sober living homes and clinics, said the problem is not limited to Arizona. He said Florida already has adopted similar restrictions.

Mary Beth Hrin, who is working with Campbell on the legislation, said there is a reason to impose such restrictions on this industry that do not exist elsewhere.

“These kids they’re bringing in here have no diagnosis,’’ explained Hrin, an unsuccessful candidate last year for Yavapai County Board of Supervisors. She said it’s not like they’re being referred to these operations by a medical professional because they have a condition that a sober living home or clinic actually could help.

In fact, Campbell’s legislation specifically says the ban on referral fees does not apply to nurse registries.

“They’re bringing these kids in based on the fact that they do have insurance,’’ Hrin said.

“They’re coming into the clinics that can’t offer them the standard of care,’’ she continued, saying some of these people may need actual psychiatric care in addition to dealing with their addiction. “These kids become a commodity.’’

Campbell acknowledged that if sober living homes and clinics are not qualified to provide treatment there is another alternative: new restrictions on their operations. That, however, may be more difficult politically to get approved than a simple ban on referral fees that Campbell said are not used by everyone in the business.

“The problem with that is that the good clinics are the ones that have asked me to run this bill,’’ he said, with only “fly-by-nights’’ opposed. “This industry is stuffed with these people that are out to make a quick buck and move on.’’

Theresa Ulmer who represents the Arizona Recovery Housing Association said her organization has not yet taken a position on the measure.

This isn’t Campbell’s first effort to rein in the industry.

Last year he crafted a measure to allow communities to impose mandatory registration requirements on all sober living homes. That would include providing information on everything from the name of the owner to having discharge plans for residents, including those who do not comply with house rules.

But he had to jettison some of what was in the original legislation to get it approved and to the desk of Gov. Doug Ducey.

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