Normally I avoid Utah politics, but this year the monkeys assembled in the State Capitol have given me even more reason to pause and throw a few rotten bananas, which they justly deserve. First there’s State Senator Chris Buttars, who in the 2006 General Session introduced an intelligent design bill (SB96) that would allow creationism to be taught alongside what he referred to as the “controversial theory” of evolution. He sponsored legislation against gay-straight school alliances in schools (no gay clubs), but better than that, during a debate before the 2008 general assembly he landed on Keith Olbermann Worst Person list with those famous lines: “The baby is black, I tell you.” “A dark, ugly thing.” and kept insisting during the backlash that he wasn’t a racist. Eventually he was more or less forced to issue a series of public apologies. I was sure he would lose his senate seat after that one, but guess what? He was re-elected!
This year his best legislative offering has been a proposal to abolish the 12th grade in public schools “since seniors don’t do anything that year anyway.” Doing away with the senior year would save the state 250 million dollars. So what do we do with all those seniors who probably won’t be able to get into college running around town with nothing to do? Simple. We put them to work in McDonald’s and Burger King so they can buy themselves a car (Buttar’s solution).
That important savings reminds me of a Democratic town hall meeting Hubby and I attended the previous evening. It was amusing and unsurprising when a young boy scout got up to voice his and his friends protest about a bill–already defeated in the House the day before–proposed by a Democratic congresswoman that would have required companies contracting with schools to supply them only with vending machine drinks and snacks meeting certain nutritional guidelines. Members on the committee who voted against the bill said they didn’t want to mandate what children eat, so the bill failed. Later an adult in the audience got up to say that we should leave the vending machines alone because they brought in much needed revenue for the schools. In essence he was saying money is more important than our childrens’ health. At this Hubby leaned over to me and whispered that they could get even more money if they made a deal with drug dealers for a kickback of say, 10% or 20% of the take. Makes as much sense to me, like a deal waiting to happen. We’ve already established that money is more important than health after all.
Back to the subject of legislation, here we are now in the middle of the 2010 General Assembly (Jan. 25-March 11, 2010) of Utah’s Legislature. Believe me, the weather isn’t the only thing we Utahns have to talk about in the wintertime. There are plenty of buffoons in both houses, but in 2007 Herriman, Utah presented the rest of us a new representative who threatens to out-buffoon good old Senator Buttars. Former police officer and small business owner (bodyguard/self-defense company) Carl Wimmer introduced a bill (HB67) that would let the state of Utah opt out of any federally enacted health care reforms. Wouldn’t you know the House approved it in a split straight down party lines, which in Utah means the Republicans won.
Before the House assembled yesterday morning, Hubby and I attended a early public meeting in the capitol building along with a group of health care advocates. The Utah Health Policy Project brought business owners, Medicaid recipients and other Utahns to show how such a bill would affect not only them but would directly impact Utah’s neediest residents , those on Medicaid assistance, as well as everyone in the state eventually. The people sharing these personal stories were middle class. Through no fault of their own they had needed and gotten help from Medicaid with skyrocketing health care bills. The mother of a boy–severely injured in 2008 by a homemade fireworks–says her son can walk today because of the medical treatment she was able to get for her son through Medicaid. Another mother pointed out that all her family has insurance through her husband’s employer, EXCEPT their autistic 13-year-old son. The insurance company refused to pay for his therapy sessions because they said autism is a pre-existing condition, therefore not covered. There was a man who, along with his wife, owns and operates a family business making chocolate treats. They’re known in the community affectionately as “the little chocolatiers” because both are dwarfs. They provide their employees insurance coverage now, but costs keep rising every year, and he doesn’t know how long his business will be able to survive. Should his business go under, he would not be able to afford Cobra insurance for himself and his family because of their “pre-existing condition” of dwarfism.
After we left the meeting, we stopped by the Assembly Hall where the vote to opt out of health care would be coming up for discussion and vote. We sent a note to our own district-elected official that we wanted to see him outside chambers. We wanted to–and did–voice to him our reasons for opposing the bill, pointing out that at best it’s premature because federal reform hasn’t happened and no longer seems imminent. And, we know it could cost the state and its neediest residents millions in federal Medicaid assistance. He agreed, but we left knowing our driving out on a slushy snowy morning and driving around looking for a parking place and walking a long distance to get there would not accomplish a thing, but proud that we’d done it.
Now before anyone jumps the gun here with whatever their stereotypical image of a Medicaid recipient is, let me point out this surprising statistic in Utah. According to the Utah Department of Health, one out of every three births in Utah is paid for by Medicaid. Half of the babies born to married BYU (Brigham Young University) students are paid for by Medicaid. One news story I read quoted a young married student who had benefited from Medicaid as saying, ” . . .having a baby is so expensive, I don’t think we could have done it without Medicaid. I figured, if you need it, why not use it? That’s what it’s there for.” By so doing, she saved her family thousands of dollars.
Now if the senior year of high school should be eliminated in Utah, and we also manage to elect out of whatever health care plan may or may not come out of Washington, I figure it’s just a matter of time before Representative Wimmer and his Patrick Henry Caucus will fight on until Utah joins Texas in its desire to secede from the United States. But wait! Wouldn’t that mean that Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett would then be out of jobs? and Representatives Jim Matheson, Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz too? Whatever would they do when they get back to Utah? There’s always McDonalds and Burger Kings of course. If there are enough people with jobs that can still afford to eat out at those healthful food venues then they might need a lot of new hires at low wages. Still and all, they might have to pay for their own insurance. I really hope they’ll be able to afford it.