After careful consideration, and a proposed "raise" that amounts to a slap in the face by the GOP-led Legislature, public school teachers and service personnel are getting ready to raise their voices at the state capitol tomorrow and Saturday.
As a small business owner and a proud product of Cabell County Schools, I owe so much to a number of great teachers; so do my sons. When I became a candidate, I decided to focus on three priorities for West Virginia: giving a voice to children and working families, fully and immediately addressing the drug epidemic, and reversing the exodus of our state’s young adults. The GOP’s de-valuing of our public workforce affects all three of these major issues.
I know it’s been brewing for several years. It started with giving away tax breaks to out-of-state corporations, putting a growing hole in West Virginia’s budget. Last year, the voices of educators and insured employees were taken off of the PEIA Funding Board, then the Legislature only funded half of the $20 million proposed to keep the agency solvent. They refused even to hold a public hearing in Huntington! And PEIA was essentially ordered to make up the deficit by holding you accountable for the rising costs.
From all I’ve heard and seen in the first half of the 2018 session, the GOP majority has been going in a negative direction. But public employees are standing up to say “we’ve had enough!” In marching on the Capitol and filling up those marble halls on Saturday, teachers and service employees are raising the voice of democracy over the paid influence of big money corporate donors. You’re making a difference now, and you have the power to make an even bigger difference in the 2018 elections!
I believe that to save West Virginia, we must grow and diversify our economy to keep our young adults here and productive. We must strengthen education from pre-K to post-secondary. And we must provide a living wage for those who provide vital human services. I stand ready to support you in your fight to stay, teach and serve the children and families of our great state, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
BE INFORMED—SAFELY REDUCING ABORTIONS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH RESTRICTING ACCESS.
AS A THINKING, CHRISTIAN “PRO-CHOICE” WOMAN I WILL STRESS TO ALL WHO WILL HEAR: THAT THERE IS NOTHING PRO-LIFE ABOUT SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION 12 (WHICH PASSED OUT OF THAT CHAMBER TODAY) AND OTHER LAWS THAT WOULD POLICE THE BODIES OF WEST VIRGINIA’S WOMEN AND GIRLS!
Restrictive laws do not reduce abortions but are instead linked to unsafe abortions, which put women at risk of serious health problems and even death. Outlawing abortion simply endangers women.
A 2016 analysis published in the Lancet finds that the average abortion rate in countries where the procedure is outlawed is 37 per 1,000 women, compared to 34 per 1,000 in countries where abortion is legal. In other words, scientists found no evidence that anti-abortion laws do anything to reduce the number of actual procedures women get.
For reference, the national U.S. abortion rate in 2014 was 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The same year the abortion rate in West Virginia was 6.0 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. (Source)
There are known, evidence-based ways to reduce abortions that actually increase a woman’s autonomy over her body, health and well-being — rather than take away her rights and put her in danger.
Please arm yourself with the facts about the three most effective ways to reduce abortions before considering such dogmatic, punitive, UNJUST and OPPRESSIVE measures as SJR 12:
1. When states invest in age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education, teen pregnancy rates go down.
Misplaced priorities that focus exclusively on “the unborn” not only demean and endanger women and teen girls, but neglect the plight of all of West Virginia’s “post-delivery” babies and children who rank 47th in the U.S. in overall child well-being.
According to 2016 Kids Count data:
• One in ten West Virginia babies are low birth weight.
• Over 23% live in poverty.
• Forty percent are covered by Medicaid.
• Thirteen percent of children have mothers with less than a 12th grade education.
• One child in 30 is a victim of abuse.
West Virginia’s most improved Kids Count child well-being indicator—perhaps West Virginia’s greatest ACTUAL PRO-LIFE achievement—has been the huge reduction in its rate of uninsured women and children in 2015, largely due to the state’s decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Source: Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families
Restrictive laws and constitutional amendments that both discount the professional judgment of and endanger the careers of doctors will have negative impacts on overall infant, woman and maternal health in West Virginia:
Given the facts, those who “hate abortion,” but consider medically-accurate, age-appropriate sex education and freely available contraception as morally objectionable may want to do their own soul-searching: “Am I more concerned with policing the bodies of women and girls than advancing solutions that are actually shown to reduce abortions and promote healthy infants, women and children in West Virginia?”
I await your response.
I made brief remarks (See the WV Public Broadcasting Feed, about 40 minutes in) before the House Judiciary Committee against a bill that would deny legal abortion services as an option for the many West Virginia women who rely on Medicaid. Each speaker had only a minute to make remarks, so I'm sharing my full statement here:
I come here as a mother, grandmother, child abuse prevention specialist and above all as a woman of Faith. As a United Methodist Christian woman, I take seriously my baptismal vow to fight evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, and to make it my calling to build up women, children, families and the most vulnerable among us.
As Christians we may still respectfully disagree on various issues. I know all of us share a determination to prevent unwanted pregnancies. We share compassion for every human life.
Where I differ with the supporters of this bill, is on the balance between mercy and judgment. I believe House Bill 4012 does not represent a faith-driven response to a social crisis, but exercises wishful, magical thinking about its solution.
We all wish for the best possible that every child conceived will not only be wanted but that every pregnant woman will be healthy, informed and prepared to deliver that child in the best and safest of circumstances.
It is wishful thinking to assume this is always the case. It is misguided, magical thinking to believe that we will achieve these outcomes by punitive measures: restricting options, punishing doctors, and forcing poor women in medical distress to risk their very lives, or wind up poorer and more desperate in the attempt to end a dangerous pregnancy.
House Bill 4012 will not achieve the positive outcomes you wish for.
In a legislature dominated by male representatives, who will never be in the shoes of those you would imperil and endanger through this bill, what insight can you have to put this forth as a feasible solution? Does this bill empower poor women and girls by offering education, contraception, gynecological wellness, protection from the men who would sexually violate them? No. It only restricts doctors’ ability to provide legal reproductive care, exacerbates desperation, and further endangers human lives through botched do-it-herself attempts to end pregnancy, life-threatening gestational complications that go unchecked, miscarriages that turn a woman's body into a financial or legal crime scene, even fewer women’s health providers available to serve our communities, and worse. These are the unintended consequences of perhaps well meaning but misguided and ultimately unkind bills that are enacted in the name of “Life.”
As taxpayers, we may want to eliminate the expenditures that we find immoral or objectionable. For example, as a peace-loving citzen, I abhor the escalation of government funded bombs and weapons systems that often destroy innocent human life. But I readily accept that we train and then put our trust in military experts to be prepared to act in situations where there are no good options, to prevent even worse outcomes. Then we do what we can as a society to prevent these bad outcomes. Instead of this Legislative body putting itself in the position of micromanaging and tying the hands of medical professionals serving poor women and families, why not focus on solutions that actually prevent worse outcomes - increasing access to birth control, women’s well-visits and vital safety net resources, and fully taking on the opioid crisis?
As a Christian woman who chooses human mercy and compassion over human judgment, and prevention and support over wishful, magical, and frankly male-dominated dogma, I ask you to prayerfully consider the consequences you would unleash through the passage of this punitive, unjust and oppressive bill.
I attended the public meeting in December, and commented in writing before this plan was drafted. (I'm pleased to see that our excellent home visiting programs are considered part of the equation.) Before tackling anything else—like raising the speed limit on the interstate, or taking any more measures to reduce the state's coffers—our WV Legislators need to move full speed ahead on these recommendations, and come up with the revenue to implement them.
There's more to accomplish in the long term, but lives hang in the balance right now. Our Legislative leaders are fooling themselves if they think our business climate and workforce readiness will improve without taking on the drug epidemic. GET MOVING!
Proposed Opioid Response Plan Released for Public Comment
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) today released a proposed opioid response plan developed through public engagement and expert input. The preliminary report was prepared by an expert panel after review of more than 300 public comments, a public meeting on December 21, 2017, and input from state agencies.
“This crisis has plagued our state for too long,” said Bill J. Crouch, DHHR Cabinet Secretary. “Governor Jim Justice has asked that we utilize all resources at our disposal to combat this epidemic. The effects of the drug problem are impacting all parts of DHHR including – Behavioral Health, Children and Families, Medical Services, and Public Health. Beginning today, our primary focus is to fight this problem on all fronts, and this plan is a crucial step in meeting that goal. Governor Justice has pledged his full support to DHHR to battle this ever-growing issue.”
Public comment on the proposed plan will be accepted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org beginning January 11, 2018 and ending on January 19, 2018. Comments may also be mailed to DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, c/o Opioid Response Plan Comment, 350 Capitol Street, Room 702, Charleston, WV 25301. They must be postmarked on or before January 19, 2018.
“This is a public health crisis of the highest order,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health and State Health Officer. “We look forward to additional public input and to saving lives in West Virginia with this strategic plan.”
The plan notes that West Virginia suffers from the highest rate of drug overdose mortality in the United States, with more than 880 deaths in 2016. Driving this public health crisis is the opioid epidemic, a dual challenge involving both prescribed opioids, such as oxycontin, and illicit opioids, including heroin and fentanyl.
The proposed opioid response plan includes high-priority, short-term recommendations in six areas:
The expert team charged with developing the opioid response plan includes:
Jim Johnson, Director of DHHR’s Office of Drug Control Policy, with 29 years of law enforcement experience including having served as both a police chief and director of the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy in Huntington.
Dr. Sean Allen, Assistant Scientist in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and former senior policy advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Dr. Jeffrey Coben, Dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health and Associate Vice President of Health Affairs and expert in the field of injury prevention and control.
Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the lead authors of America’s Opioid Epidemic: From Evidence to Impact, a report released by Johns Hopkins University and the Clinton Foundation.
Dr. Sean Loudin, Associate Professor at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, with a specialty in neonatal-perinatal medicine and research and clinical interests that have focused on neonatal abstinence syndrome.
The proposed plan and e-mail address for submitting comments are available on the DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health website at www.dhhr.wv.gov/bph.
The promise of opportunity for all
Every American should have the chance to get a free public education, work for livable wages, grow up in safe surroundings, get health care, and retire with dignity.
Every citizen, through hard work, should have the chance to enjoy a bright future. I believe these are basics of a sustainable, humane society.
Certain vital services should not “privatized,” or left in the hands of profit-making entities or individuals to bargain or barter away.
On Sunday I sat in as an observer during the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care, one of three days worth of interim work sessions held at the capitol.
Not having been a state employee, this is new territory for me but I brought my friend Betty, a retired schoolteacher, so she could help me better understand the issues on our drive to and from Charleston. I took copious notes in my tiny composition book as Ted Cheatham, Director of WV's Public Employees Insurance Agency, reported on recent public meetings and presented options for insurance plans to fit within the budget set by the Legislature.
Among the cost-cutting options presented for our state's nearly quarter-of-a-million enrolled women, men and children were: raising deductibles, raising out of pocket costs, changing prescription plans, reducing the 80% share paid by the state, and so on. The director at one point suggested that employees with kids could save by enrolling their children in the federal CHIP program (which as of now has not been funded by Congress for 2018).
Toward the end of the meeting, Del. Rick Moye (D-Raleigh) began asking questions that helped me make sense out of the whole PEIA issue. Mr. Cheatham confirmed that the Legislature only funded half of the $20 million proposed last session, and PEIA needed to make up this $10 million deficit by continuing to hold employees accountable for the costs.
If I got it down correctly here's the bottom line: Over the last two years, an estimated $70 million in costs has been shifted onto the backs of PEIA recipients and their families. The delegate asked how long it has been since these state employees got a raise, and while a definite answer eluded the director, he said he remembered a single one-time $500 annual raise in the last ten years. Someone else in the room said it had been 12 years since our lowest-paid state employees got a raise.
After the meeting, a local activist live-posted a few follow-up interviews with members of the Select Committee asking about revenue solutions to provide relief to state employees and their families —specifically, restoring the corporate net income tax and business franchise tax to their pre-2007 levels. The general consensus among the GOP members is that there is "no sentiment in this Legislature" to raise any taxes on corporations (although they're still waiting for the "uptick" in well-paying private industry jobs).
Apparently, the rules also disallow any negotiation between the state and the pharmaceutical industry on lowering prescription costs for this large pool of customers. I suppose that's been off the table for decades now.
What am I missing here?
Raising our voices
Issues, insights and day-to-day adventures along the campaign trail