To: Ellen Brady,
Subject: Legislative Priorities
Date: Thu Jan 30 04:18:03 MST 2014
The legislative session has begun, giving you another opportunity to serve the citizens of Utah. As an individual and together as a body I would urge you to please put ‘politics aside’ and truly act on behalf of those citizens, many of whom fall into the ‘silent majority’. In that context, the following constitutes a list of the issues that need to be addressed far more urgently than many of the ‘message bills’ that so often in the past seem to have taken way too much time and attention.
· Clean air: 4,000 to 5,000 Utahns gathered at the capitol Saturday to send the message loudly and clearly that clean air is vitally important to our individual health and to the economy of our state. The time has long passed that we can afford to take ‘baby steps’ that might have an effect years from now. It is no accident that my husband can stop his asthma meds when he travels out of state, but needs them chronically here. Our air is making us sick. Time to fix it, whatever it takes. End of story.
· Medicaid expansion: It needs to be implemented and the state needs to get fully behind the Affordable Care Act. It is working in states where implementation has been supported and it is not in states where it has not been supported. That falls into the ‘duh’ category as does the shear insanity of turning down millions in federal dollars while letting thousands of Utah citizens suffer for lack of access to basic medical care. Every basic economic analysis (not to speak of moral analyses) shows that Utah will benefit by expanding Medicaid coverage—not just from the influx of federal dollars, but also from the provision of medical care to prisoners, from jobs created, and from the improved productivity of healthy citizens.
· Gun safety: Instead of spending time trying to bring more guns into the state and loosening laws related to gun ownership and use, please focus on keeping guns out of the hands of those who should not have them. The fact that an individual who has been cited for domestic violence and criminal mischief has more sway over gun policies in this state than the majority of individuals who want common sense restrictions put in place is an embarrassment, as is our status of ‘dead last’ with regard to ANY gun regulation and ‘dead first’ with regard to suicide by gun. Safe storage laws, restrictions on magazine size, and an end to the export of concealed weapons permits are only a few of the things that Utah could do to reduce the epidemic of gun violence loose in our country. Arming teachers is NOT the answer. Trolley Square should have been our wake up call. Many mass shootings and thousands of deaths later we somehow are still acting as if gun violence is not a public health crisis or that the second amendment means that government has no legitimate role in the regulation of gun ownership and use.
· LGBT protections and rights: The recent court decision is likely to set off a ‘tizzy’ of message bills aimed at further communicating to a portion of our citizenry that they are truly second class citizens. It is no surprise that LGBT persons comprise a huge segment of our homeless youth population and commit suicide at much higher rates. Job and housing issues are real for them. Many of those rushing to the county offices for marriage licenses had been together in loving committed relationships for years. It is time to recognize the shared humanity and rights of the LGBT community. All of our marriages will be strengthened by our actions.
· Government integrity: The recent Swallow (and Shurtleff) fiasco suggests that it is long-past time to put in place far stronger ethics and campaign finance laws. The legislature has opposed citizen initiatives that tried to institute reforms by making it harder for any such initiative to make it on the ballot. That the new Attorney General appointed someone who herself was at the center of a campaign finance scandal (Enid Greene Waldholtz Mikelsen) to advise him on ‘necessary changes’ says it all. Clean government, of, by, and for the people is what we are supposed to be all about—not of, by, and for corruption and money.
· Education: We continue to remain ‘in the basement’ with regard to educational funding. Kids are our future. While dollars must be spent wisely, elementary school class sizes of 30 or 40 and teachers who are at the bottom of the salary ladder are another of our state disgraces, along with the lack of mandatory (all day) kindergarten and greater investment in early childhood programs. Those programs far and away have the greatest ‘return on investment’, as kids ready to learn when they enter school contribute to society rather than costing society ‘downstream’.
Ellen Brady, MD, MPH