My Perspective: Making a difference (when you doubt you can)

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A guest blog entry from Jay Smith, MD, MPH, NHPHA Policy Committee Co-Chair

As many public health advocates know, we lost some of our legislative champions in the last election cycle and control of the legislature is now firmly in the hands of those who often see any governmental programs as inherently suspect.  This includes safety and health measures to some degree.  Yet there are thinking individuals among the new Republican majority in the House and the increased number in the Senate.  I think it would be a mistake to write them off and just concentrate on obtaining vetoes from our governor and then sustaining those vetoes in the legislature.  My recent experience with HB 288 is illustrative.  It is not a health bill per se but there are health implications involved and energy use and health are main passions for me.

This bill would allow towns and cities to opt out of the energy code for new construction.  In committee hearings, experts spoke in opposition to the misinformation being provided by the builder/legislator who is sponsoring the bill.  But the questioning from committee members made it clear that some felt that this energy code might be causing health problems from “sick buildings”.  So I sent the committee members all a letter to provide a health perspective.  I had responses from two Republicans on the committee, one saying he agreed with me and the other asking for information that I was able to supply after a small amount of research.  In the committee’s executive session, the committee didn’t send the bill on to the House for a vote but retained it for further study.  I don’t know that my letter shifted the vote at all and it doesn’t mean this is dead but we now have until next year to marshal testimony from other builders who have no problem with the code.

The legislative process is a bit mind-numbing and many important bills are being considered in many different committees at the same time so it is difficult to follow and influence.  But, if we don’t start early and get good information to our legislators about bad legislation (or good bills that we support), there may be a couple of votes that we lose that could have made a difference.  It can be quite discouraging but allowing that to sap our determination is not something the world can afford.  In future newsletters, there will be more information about bills heading in to executive session and then floor debate and votes.  This all leads up to crossover on April 2nd when every bill passed in the House goes to the Senate and vice-versa.  Then we start getting even more serious about getting everyone to understand what is at stake.

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