SB320: Dynamite to the foundation of Public Health

By Jeanie Holt, NHPHA Public Policy Committee Co-Chair

I loved the movie “Paint Your Wagon” (dating myself?). One scene I found especially funny comes toward the end of the movie. The two lead men had noticed that a lot of gold dust got spilled on the floor of the bar in this California mining town. They get the bright idea of digging under the bar to mine that gold. Once there, they move on to the next and the next and the next bar. Eventually their tunnels start to collapse and the whole town falls down. One of the men, shaking his head as he watches the bars and brothels collapsing, says, “How do you like that? We built a town just the way we liked it and then we destroyed it.”

I feel a bit like that with SB320. Public Health (and medicine, and nursing, and many others) has worked hard to publicize the importance of using data (evidence) to design programs and to evaluate their effectiveness. And now, while it isn’t us who are destroying “the town”, bills like SB320 will destroy the very foundation of public health.

SB320 says, “no student shall be required to volunteer for or submit to a nonacademic survey or questionnaire,…without written consent of a parent or legal guardian”. The bill defines a nonacademic survey as one “designed to elicit information about a student's social behavior, family life, religion, politics, sexual orientation, sexual activity, drug use, or any other information not related to a student's academics.” (One could perhaps argue that information about drug use or sexual orientation or behavior is related to a student’s academics!)

1.     How valid would the information actually be if the only students who filled it out were the ones who a) remembered to give the consent form to their parent; and b) had a parent who willingly signed permission; and c) remembered to return the consent to the proper school authority in time to take the survey? Talk about a small and very skewed sample?

2.     How will school districts, community agencies, and other know what health issues need to be addressed? Could we rely on anecdotal “evidence”? As in, “Gee, it seems to me I see more kids smoking this year than I did last year.”

3.     How will NH compete for scarce dollars (you know, the ones we paid in taxes that go to CDC and then come back home to address NH issues) without good data?

4.     And finally, how will we know if the programs we put in place actually have an impact on the problem we identified? How will we know we aren’t wasting those scarce resources?

How can you help defuse this dynamite before it damages the foundations of public health in NH? We are collaborating with the NH Research and Evaluation Group and with UNH to create a multi-stranded message to oppose SB320. NHPHA will collect information from “the trenches” to add to the arguments made by researchers. So:

1.     We need your examples of how you have used data from nonacademic surveys administered in schools. Don’t worry about being a good writer-just send Jeanie the details and she can help craft the story. (

2.     We can help you testify when the hearing on SB320 gets scheduled. Let us know if you are interested.

3.     We can help you contact your elected Senator or Representative to let them know how you would like them to represent you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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