Major health care reform bills to be heard in committee Wednesday

On Tuesday, two significant health care reform bills came out of the House Rules Committee.

•        SB 164 (1st Subst.) – Access to Health Care Amendments, sponsored by Sen. Brian Shiozawa, is Governor Herbert’s proposed “Healthy Utah” plan.

•        HB 446 – Extension of Primary Care Network and Medicaid Benefits Under Existing 70/30 Federal/State Cost Sharing Amendments is the “Utah Cares” program proposed by Rep. Jim Dunnigan.

The two bills have been assigned to the House Business and Labor Committee, where they will be the only two items on the agenda when the committee meets on Wednesday evening, March 4, at 6 p.m.

Assignment to this committee is consistent with the pattern established several years ago subsequent to the passage by the U.S. Congress of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” generally known as Obamacare. And, as I have observed through lengthy personal association with the Legislature’s Health Reform Task Force, health care reform related bills are assigned to and considered by this committee. Recent examples include last year’s HB 141 – Health Reform Amendments (2014) and HB 160 – Health System Reform Amendments (2013). Additionally, it is as appropriate for a bill to go to a committee that interacts with entities that deal with liabilities and costs as it is for a bill to be sent to a committee that interacts with entities that reap benefits associated with proposed legislation.

Sutherland has steadfastly opposed the “Healthy Utah” proposal. The Institute sees significant merit in the proposed “Utah Cares” bill. Readers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with these bills and communicate their views with their elected representatives.

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The tradeoffs of postponing marriage past your mid-20s

wedaccentsI’ve been reading an interesting book about family policy and came across a brief passage that said while one should wait until at least the mid-20s to marry, it was “better still” to wait until “your early thirties, if you want to reduce the risk of divorce.” Others promote later marriage because it’s associated with an increase in women’s earnings.

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox notes there are tradeoffs in the decision to postpone marriage past the mid-20s. In sum, the extra decade could result in a 4 percent decrease in the risk of divorce but at the cost of decreased marital happiness. Specifically, he points to a University of Texas study that showed:

Analysis of data from five American data sets indicated that the later marriages fare very well in survival but rather poorly in quality. The greatest indicated likelihood of being in an intact marriage of the highest quality is among those who married at ages 22–25, net of the estimated effects of time since first marriage and several variables that might commonly affect age at marriage and marital outcomes. The negative relationship beyond the early to mid-twenties between age at marriage and marital success is likely to be at least partially spurious, and thus it would be premature to conclude that the optimal time for first marriage for most persons is ages 22–25. However, the findings do suggest that most persons have little or nothing to gain in the way of marital success by deliberately postponing marriage beyond the mid-twenties.

Dr. Wilcox explains some of the benefits of marrying in your mid-20s that will make sense to many people:

  • “[Y]ou are more likely to marry someone who shares your basic values and life experiences, and less likely to marry someone with a complicated romantic or family history. … Marrying at this stage in your life also allows couples to experience early adulthood together.”
  • “Women who marry in their 20s generally have an easier time getting pregnant, and having more than one child, than their peers who wait to marry in their thirties. You’ll also be around to enjoy the grandchildren for longer.”
  • “You’re less likely to lose the best possible mate for fear of getting started too young on the adventure that is married life.”

This paraphrase of James Thurber is wonderfully apt: “Love is what you go through together.” So, when you meet the right person in your 20s, why wait?

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Go find a sunset

Total_solar_eclipse_1999The Wall Street Journal writes that experiencing awe is good for you:

Want to improve your life? Go do something awesome.

The actual feeling of awe, and experiences that inspire it, benefit us in all sorts of ways, from stronger health to improved relationships, according to several recent studies. …

Awe is an emotional response to something vast, and it challenges and expands our way of seeing the world.

It got me thinking about some of my favorite awe-inspiring experiences. Here are a few (this is not an all-inclusive list):

* Experiencing a total solar eclipse.

* Hiking in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

* Walking through Florence, Italy, and gaping at the architecture of the Renaissance all around me.

Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.

Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.

 

* Hearing (and watching) an organ solo with Richard Elliot and the Count from Sesame Street – hilarious and jaw-dropping at the same time.

* Learning of other people’s accomplishments in cases where I think I would have given up, or never tried.

* Gazing out airplane windows.

(And then there’s this guy —

lame passengerI took a photo of him on a flight descending over Oahu because I was aghast that instead of looking at this view he had his window shade down and was watching a movie. Incomprehensible! But who knows, maybe he doesn’t enjoy landings.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Reading tales of endurance such as “Unbroken” and “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.”

* Seeing a stripe of sun illuminating downtown Salt Lake City one morning last month (I took a photo with my phone, but the result was less than awe-inspiring):

slsunshine iphone attempt

 

 

 

* And I found awe in an unexpected place last week – watching a YouTube clip of Lady Gaga at the Oscars. She set aside her outrageous persona to sing a soaring medley from “The Sound of Music.” It gave me goosebumps!

Anyway, as if experiencing awe weren’t rewarding enough on its own, it’s good for your emotional health and your relationships, according to the WSJ article:

Researchers have found “awe experiences” increase our prosocial behaviors, making us more generous and more humble. They increase our “empathic accuracy,” so we recognize another person’s emotional expression and respond with concern. And they make us more willing to engage with trust and connect with others.

This is another good argument for spending the money and effort on family vacations and outings – if you can share a feeling of awe (say, watching the sun set over the ocean) with other family members, it can be an experience that actually feeds the health of your relationships.

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Senator Mike Lee’s focus on ‘putting families first’ — Sutherland Soapbox, 2/24/15

family beach sunsetThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Much has been said over the past several weeks about the number of significant leadership positions now occupied by Utah’s elected representatives in the nation’s capital and in organizations with national scope and influence. In addition to several House members occupying key roles in the U.S. Congress, with Republicans taking control of the Senate in the recent election, the longest-serving member of the delegation, Sen. Orrin Hatch, became the Senate president pro tempore, a position that puts him third in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president and the House speaker. Further, Governor Gary Herbert serves in the leadership of the National Governors Association, where he will soon become the chair; Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker currently is president of the National League of Cities; and state Senator Curtis Bramble is the president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan organization serving the nation’s 7,383 state lawmakers and more than 20,000 legislative staff.

Today, I’d like to focus on U.S. Senator Mike Lee. As recently reported in the Deseret News, while visiting the state, prominent political pollster Frank Luntz “said Lee’s position as head of the Senate steering committee that acts as a conservative caucus, along with key assignments held by the other five members of Utah’s all-GOP congressional delegation, gives Utah outsized influence. [Quoting Mr. Luntz:] ‘Utah’s got the most powerful delegation in Washington … [i]t’s incredible that this is a small state with an oversized delegation.’”

Senator Lee is consistent in focusing on a particular priority. In his words: “America’s crisis of unequal opportunity is the greatest challenge facing the United States today. We need to start developing a new conservative reform agenda that restores equal opportunity to the families and communities from whom it has been unfairly taken.”  Continue reading

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Support religious liberty: stand up to the ‘no compromise’ approach to nondiscrimination

Utah_State_Capitol_2008Supporters of a “no compromise” approach to LGBT nondiscrimination argue that we already have sufficient protections for religious liberty. They cite the First Amendment and Utah’s majority-Mormon population to bolster their case. Unfortunately, their argument is undermined by the realities of “no compromise” approaches to nondiscrimination law.

The facts and details of the experience of a Salt Lake City police officer and his role at the Salt Lake pride parade in 2014 are a case in point. This officer arranged, as is common police practice, a swap of duties with another officer working the parade. In the officer’s view, his original entertainment/celebratory role of doing motorcycle maneuvers at the head of the pride parade amounted to endorsing values that his conscience and faith disagreed with. Instead, the officer sought to perform a public safety role, such as protecting parade watchers from traffic. The officer had fulfilled similar public safety duties on other occasions for Salt Lake LGBT rallies.

Because the officer had the temerity to ask that his religious views and values be treated with tolerance, respect and equality, his employer caricatured him as a bigot to the media, questioned his willingness to perform his duty and put him under internal investigation. This officer asked for religious liberty and was met with injustice and intolerance. And all of this happened in our own backyard. Continue reading

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Nondiscrimination legislation requires balance, extreme care

Balancing_act_News reports suggest there is still an ongoing debate about how to balance calls for changes to state discrimination laws (which would expand the reasons businesses and property owners could not deny housing or employment) with the need for robust religious liberty protections.

At the time leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a press conference calling for laws protecting religious liberty, Sutherland Institute noted its support for the balanced approach the church endorsed.

It is safe to assume that few, if any, people of faith in Utah want anyone to be denied a job or a place to live just because those people’s actions or beliefs are contrary to the beliefs of the religion. Religious groups, both churches and charities operating in accordance with religious principles, merely want to ensure that those who represent them as leaders and employees live lives consistent with those principles.

Sutherland Institute has consistently urged strong religious protections that allow churches, unaffiliated religious organizations and individuals to live in accordance with their religious beliefs in every aspect of their lives. Any legislation on this topic should protect this vital principle.

At the same time, the Legislature needs to exercise extreme care when introducing new terms, like “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” into the law.

The latter requires particular caution since definitions in previous legislation could be read to allow a person to identify as a person of another sex for short periods of time, going back and forth between genders and asking for accommodations in facilities, etc., possibly from day to day. Legislation should be crafted to provide clarity and prevent undue burdens on employers or the privacy of employees, customers, and others.

Even the “sexual orientation” language, if not appropriately qualified, can present challenges for religious liberty. Continue reading

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Testimony on SB 153 (Access to Health Care)

sutherland file pictures 007Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, Sutherland Institute director of public affairs, on Feb. 17, 2015, before the Senate Health and Human Services Standing Committee regarding SB 153 (Access to Health Care): 

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good morning, Senators. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute.

We think SB 153 represents a wise approach that balances meeting the immediate needs of individuals with significant health problems against the need to be cognizant of and cautious about the very detrimental impact that expanding the Medicaid program will have on those currently in Medicaid – the hundreds of thousands of disabled individuals and low-income single parents and children that Healthy Utah would leave behind in traditional Medicaid – as well as on the long-term fiscal outlook of the state.

For these reasons, we strongly encourage your support of this bill.

Thank you.

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Is apple pie next? — Sutherland Soapbox, 2/17/15

A_Wreath_to_Mama_1876This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Motherhood and apple pie, as the idiom suggests, are things we can all agree on — they’re archetypes of all that’s good and wholesome.

Well, apple pie now has some high-placed enemies, and even motherhood’s not getting the respect it used to; a certain kind of motherhood at least.

As a number of commentators have noted, the president’s plan to help middle-class families unveiled in the State of the Union speech has a blind spot. As family scholar W. Bradford Wilcox explains:

The president’s plan would triple the existing child-care tax credit to $3,000 for two-earner families with children under 5 and a combined income of less than $120,000, and it would establish a new $500 credit for families in which both spouses work. The plan would provide tax relief—which would no doubt help with the cost of child care, commuting, etc.—to middle-class families with both parents in the workforce. But families who choose to have a parent at home would see none of this tax relief.

The hopefully unintentional slight followed an awkward statement last year during a speech on Women and the Economy where the president—while endorsing paid family leave, better daycare and early childhood education—said: “sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result.  And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make. ”

So, perhaps motherhood’s still okay as long as mother doesn’t shirk paid work to do it.

G.K. Chesterton pointed out the flaw in this line of thinking in 1920:

If people cannot mind their own business, it cannot possibly be more economical to pay them to mind each other’s business, and still less to mind each other’s babies. It is simply throwing away a natural force and then paying for an artificial force; as if a man were to water a plant with a hose while holding up an umbrella to protect it from the rain. . . . Ultimately, we are arguing that a woman should not be a mother to her own baby, but a nursemaid to somebody else’s baby. But it will not work, even on paper. We cannot all live by taking in each other’s washing, especially in the form of pinafores.

It would actually be easy to avoid the problem of singling out the choice to remain at home to care for children for less favorable treatment. Professor Wilcox notes that an idea proposed by Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio would expand “the child tax credit to $3,500 from its current $1,000 and extending it to payroll taxes” which would treat all parents the same, regardless of whether there are one or two wage earners in the home.

Utah’s policies have some blind spots regarding single-income families as well. For instance, if a parent who chooses to forego paid employment is divorced, the law “imputes” non-existent income to that person that will offset the obligations the spouse who caused the divorce would have had. This means a decrease in the amount that would be available to the stay-at-home parent, making it more likely that person will have to leave home for paid work. From a purely practical perspective, it might be wise for a divorced spouse to find other sources of income given the possibility that support might not be paid or might not be adequate, it hardly seems like good policy for the state to assume that the only appropriate thing for a parent who has been at home with the children to do is to get back into the workplace and have children shift for themselves as quickly as possible. Maybe that result can’t be avoided but it need not be mandated.

Policy makers need to be reminded that mothers, and sometimes fathers, who sacrifice to care for children in the home are making an incalculable contribution not only to their children and their family but to society at large. They deserve respect and appreciation and even help, not to have their choice hedged up by those who are blind to all but market values.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Bill Duncan. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

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Ex-CDC chief: Policies that reduce alcohol availability reduce alcohol-related problems

Everyone_take_a_drinkIn an op-ed published Feb. 12 in The Salt Lake Tribune, Dr. James O. Mason challenged a previous Tribune editorial, which said, “No doubt Utah sees benefits from having a lower rate of alcohol consumption and fewer drinkers, but the state should give credit where it is due: its people, not its liquor laws.”

Disputing this assumption, Dr. Mason responded,

In other words, they [the S.L. Tribune editorial board members] hoped to convince readers that Utah’s lower rate of alcohol consumption has everything to do with religious demographics and little to do with Utah’s alcohol policies and laws. Legislators should understand the science behind this controversy before making any changes to Utah’s laws.

How can we measure the impact of religious culture versus alcohol laws in explaining Utah’s low rate of alcohol-related problems? Perspective might be gained by examining the state’s experience with tobacco control. In 1986, Utah’s adult smoking rate of 18.2 percent was the lowest in the nation. … Fast-forward to 2012 when the smoking rate had fallen to 10.6 percent. What explains how Utah’s smoking rate was cut, almost in half, within a 26 year period? Was it increased religious fervor? An influx of Mormons? No, the explanation lies elsewhere.

He then noted,

Between 1986 and 2012, Utah, like most other states, adopted a variety of evidence-based tobacco control strategies which were recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Experts from the CDC claimed comprehensive tobacco control policies would dramatically reduce smoking. The recommended strategies included increasing cigarette taxes, aggressive indoor clean air laws, youth access restrictions, access to smoking cessation services and anti-smoking media campaigns. Utah legislators took a gamble and followed the recommendations. What was the result? The smoking rate in Utah was cut almost in half. Public health policies, rather than religion, produced this decline.

Could it be that public health policies likewise contribute to Utah’s lower rates of alcohol problems? Informed legislators will get answers from experts employed at authoritative organizations. Numerous researchers’ careers have focused on which, and to what extent, various alcohol control policies work. They set a high bar for labeling a policy as “evidence-based” or “best practice.” The CDC’s online document, “Community Guides: What Works to Promote Health,” and the World Health Organization’s book, “Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity” rate the relative effectiveness of select alcohol policies. These documents describe the rating methodology and carefully reference the studies used to generate their recommendations.

Continuing,

These reports don’t recommend prohibition, but they do convey the clear message that, collectively, policies which reduce alcohol availability such as the number and location of retail outlets, hours of sale and the price of drinks, substantially reduce the number of alcohol-related problems. Maybe Utah’s alcohol control policies aren’t so screwy after all. One prominent alcohol policy researcher called them the “envy of the nation.”

In conclusion, Dr. Mason asserted,

Utah legislators are being pressured by special interest groups to loosen the state’s alcohol regulations. Some claim economic gains will result with loosened policies. Rather, if loosened, the costs to society will far exceed projected economic gains. Legislators should be wary of industry lobbyists who, 30 years ago, tried to convince lawmakers that Salt Lake City could never get the Winter Olympics unless the state dismantled its alcohol policies. Those lobbyists were wrong. They are also wrong in claiming that Utah’s alcohol policies do nothing to reduce the negative health, social and economic impact of alcohol abuse. Thoughtful analysis by experts suggests that alcohol control policies work [emphasis added].

The op-ed also noted that Dr. Mason is a former executive director of the Utah Department of Health and a former director of the CDC.

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On Point video: Taxes and education in the Legislature — 2/12/15

 

Watch as Utah GOP party officer Michelle Mumford and political consultant Michelle Scharf discuss the latest in Utah politics and the 2015 Legislature in this edition of On Point presented by Sutherland Institute.

Click the image above to watch, or if you prefer a podcast, it can be found at the bottom of this post.

You can watch all the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

Or use this link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

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The research so far: Mom + Dad still best for kids

Family_playing_a_board_gameIn past decades, a large body of research has developed focused on the question of what family structures are most likely to promote child well-being. The basic consensus — based on comparisons of children raised by married biological parents, single parents, divorced parents, stepparents, etc. — is that children fare best, on average, when raised by their own biological parents in a stable marriage.

More recently, a different body of research suggests that this consensus would not apply if the population being compared were children raised by same-sex couples. In other words, the claim is that children raised by same-sex couples fare no differently than children raised by a biological mother and father. If true, this would be an important finding since the research on stepparenting (the situation most analogous to same-sex couples parenting a child, since at most one member of the couple would be biologically related) would seem to point in a different direction.

Of course, the importance of this finding, if established, would extend beyond the academy since the claim of “no differences” has been relied on by courts that have found that the U.S. or state constitutions require same-sex marriage. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s DOMA opinion seems to rely on this literature by implication in suggesting that children being raised by same-sex couples are harmed by the inability of the couple to claim the status of marriage, rather than inquiring whether any difficulties these children experience may come from separation from one or both biological parents or from a lack of relationship with either a mother or father.

Discordant notes

There has been some serious criticism of the same-sex parenting studies, however, because a number of analysts, representing diverse views on the political implications, have noted problems with sample sizes, non-random samples, poor or nonexistent comparison groups, etc. (See here, here, here, here and here.)

In 2012, Dr. Loren Marks at Louisiana State University published a detailed analysis of the studies relied on by the American Psychological Association for its support of same-sex marriage and found that the flaws in that research were so significant as to seriously call into question the validity of any conclusions derived from it.

Far more interesting was a new study released in the same journal as Dr. Marks’ report which attempted to correct the shortcomings of the previous literature by drawing on a much larger, representative sample, comparing child outcomes on more significant measures, and avoiding the problem of relying on reports of the adults raising the child. This study (and a follow-up study, using different comparison groups in response to critics of the initial research) demonstrated significant increases in problems for children raised by same-sex couples as compared to children raised by married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers.

This study, and to a lesser extent similar studies (here and here and here) suggesting children raised by same-sex couples don’t fare as well as children raised by married mothers and fathers, have been subjected to a firestorm of attacks (see also here, here, and here), including much ad hominem rhetoric and an apparently unprecedented and certainly highly unusual campaign of harassment and intimidation.

New studies

Now, three new studies by sociologist Paul Sullins, who teaches at the Catholic University of America, add to the data that seem to undermine the claim of “no differences.” Continue reading

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Testimony on SB 164 (Medicaid expansion)

sutherland file pictures 007Testimony presented by Derek Monson, director of public policy, Sutherland Institute, on Feb. 11, 2015, before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee of the Utah Legislature regarding SB 164 (Access to Health Care Amendments):

Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I am Derek Monson, policy director for Sutherland Institute, and I appreciate the opportunity to present our viewpoint on this important issue to you.

I would like to draw your attention to what we think is a basic policy issue regarding Senator Shiozawa’s bill. That is its impact on the people for whom the Medicaid program was actually designed to serve: disabled Utahns and low-income single parents and children.

Both thoughtful analysis and fact suggest that Sen. Shiozawa’s bill will increase the difficulties and suffering of the more than 300,000 disabled Utahns and low-income single parents and children currently in Medicaid. This is not a partisan or ideological issue. While Sutherland recognizes this problem, so do nonpartisan research organizations that argue in favor of Medicaid expansion, such as the RAND Corporation.

Neither is this just a theoretical question. In Oregon, so many people were added to the ranks of the insured through Medicaid expansion, basically overnight, that doctors and hospitals were forced to “lock out” Medicaid patients and make them “wait months for medical appointments,” as reported by the Associated Press. And in Arkansas, which expanded Medicaid using private insurance subsidies just like Healthy Utah envisions, a legislative committee heard testimony last April from state officials that providers are more “anxious” to serve newly privately insured patients than traditional Medicaid patients.

And why shouldn’t they be? In Arkansas as well as in Utah, the typical private insurance policy pays providers better than Medicaid does. And as basic economics teaches us, people respond to price incentives. The enactment of Healthy Utah clearly says to providers that they ought to prioritize the health care needs of the estimated 89,000 Medicaid expansion enrollees over the needs of the 300,000 single mothers, disabled Utahns and children left behind in traditional Medicaid. Utah’s most vulnerable will find it more difficult to find a doctor, and they will suffer longer waiting in line for needed surgeries and more intensive health care services.

Good public policy, on the other hand, would put traditional Medicaid enrollees on the same health care access footing as Medicaid expansion enrollees and everyone else, rather than excluding them and by so doing making their lives worse. Additionally, good public policy would not say to uninsured Utahns that we intend to care for their needs, only to toss them into the street the moment Washington, D.C., gets jittery about their finances. We don’t think that reflects the Utah values of providing service and helping to our neighbors in need, even when it’s difficult to do so.

In short, if “doing the right thing” means putting Medicaid expansion on the backs of disabled Utahns, single mothers and their children, then this is the bill for you. If, on the other hand, you think that serious public policy proposals should recognize and address the negative impacts they are likely to have on Utah’s most vulnerable, then I would encourage you to not vote in favor of SB 164 until it at least includes some attempt to address this critical issue.

Thank you.

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Moral standards and redemptive values — in Hollywood? Yes! Sutherland Soapbox, 2/10/15

b

reel

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

Hollywood is just a cesspool of filth rotting our souls and ruining our children. Or at least that’s a narrative we often hear, right? While the entertainment industry does produce its fair share of garbage, there is a lot to celebrate.

This past weekend, a few of my Sutherland Institute colleagues and I had the chance to attend the 23rd Annual Movieguide Awards in Hollywood. The awards gala honors films that feature high moral standards and redemptive values. In attendance were directors, producers, actors and studio executives for films such as “Big Hero 6,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” “Unbroken,” and “Muppets Most Wanted.” Stevie Wonder even made a surprise musical appearance.

But the thing that stood out to me most was the economics of moral creative content. And I’m not talking about moral content in the form of an in-your-face, condemning-you-to-the-fires-of-hell sermon disguised as a movie. That stuff just doesn’t work. If you want to preach, be a preacher. If you want to teach, be a teacher. But if you want to be a filmmaker, you better learn how to entertain. That is, after all, why most people go to the movies. To have fun. To be entertained. And perhaps, along the way, folks might also be inspired, outraged or moved to action. The trick is to elicit that emotion without alienating the audience. And the movies honored at the Movieguide Awards did just that. And that’s where the economics comes in.

During the event, Movieguide presented a statistical analysis of the biggest box office movies of 2014, as they have done for decades. Their analysis shows where the real money is. Of the 25 highest grossing films of 2014, only four were rated R. Movies with a very strong Christian, redemptive or moral worldview raked in $2.2 billion, while movies with a very strong non-Christian worldview earned less than half a billion dollars.

As I list off the top-10 grossing films of 2014, think of all of the funny, inspiring, amazing and entertaining moments from these films. Continue reading

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Senator Hillyard has it right on raising the rainy-day fund cap

Utah_State_Capitol_2008Last week, Senator Lyle Hillyard posted to The Senate Site that he and Representative Dean Sanpei would be sponsoring legislation to raise the limits on the general and education rainy-day funds (or budget reserves) which are currently at 8 percent and 9 percent of the previous year’s budget, respectively. Their proposal would raise these limits to 9 percent of the last year’s budget for the general rainy-day fund, and 11 percent for the education rainy-day fund.

This proposal is the right thing to do for Utah taxpayers and families. It is prudent and wise fiscal policy, and Sutherland Institute supports it.

First, as Sen. Hillyard correctly notes, this policy change will “help us live and provide a stable budget in less-certain times.” As Utah’s experience during the most recent recession suggests, having a healthy source of one-time funds set aside in savings gives policymakers the flexibility and financial cushion needed to make modest (and healthy) cuts to government spending. Just as important, if not more so, building up sufficient savings protects Utahns from being forced to accept truly harmful policies – such as deep spending cuts to essential programs and services and/or significant, economically damaging tax increases.

In other words, having significant one-time savings set aside protects recession-ravaged Utah taxpayers and families from further short-term harm, such as cuts to things like safety-net services. It also protects them from spending cuts or tax increases that generate short-term gain (balancing Utah’s budget) in exchange for long-term loss (fewer jobs, less household income and slower economic growth).

Second, while Utah’s pre-recession rainy-day fund savings were significant, the Great Recession showed that they were, by themselves, inadequate. The recession required policymakers to end or reallocate certain one-time budget items – cash-funded road and building construction/maintenance, for example – instead of further cutting other government programs and services. In effect, these one-time budget items were treated as informal rainy-day funds, in order to avoid more damaging spending cuts elsewhere. There is no guarantee that these fiscal cushions will be available in the future. For instance, economic circumstances or other spending needs may not allow the Legislature to return to previous levels of cash funding for roads and buildings. This makes lifting the caps on rainy-day funds a prudent way to maintain sufficient budget reserves in the face of this uncertainty.

For these and other reasons, Sutherland Institute supports the Hillyard/Sanpei proposal to raise the current caps on state rainy-day funds. We hope that the Legislature and the governor will enact this prudent fiscal policy change into law.

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A right to discriminate?

ReligiousSymbolsA common accusation made by those who oppose robust protections for religious liberty is that proponents are seeking a “right to discriminate.” The common form this argument takes is that religious liberty is already protected (say, by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) so any other concession is asking too much — it would be dangerous or scary, a license to pick and choose what laws to comply with*; it would be a right to discriminate.

Discrimination in this context is, basically, denying a person a job or a place to live or refusing to provide goods or services normally provided in the course of doing business.

To assess the validity of this accusation, some background is helpful, though necessarily I will paint with a broad brush. Religious people believe they are accountable to God in every aspect of their lives. Acting on this principle is what constitutes the “exercise of religion.” There are at least five possible categories of organizations or people who could benefit from religious liberty protections.

First are churches. The basic liberties they seek are to teach their doctrines, provide sacraments or ordinances, build and maintain places of worship and select official representatives (clergy) without interference. These aims, which may be thought of as the core religious rights, are typically protected by interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. For instance, in 2012, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected a claim from the federal government that it should be able to second-guess a church selection of a teacher in a religious school. The fact that the current administration pushed this attempt all the way to the Supreme Court is concerning, but that claim lost and there’s reason to believe that at least for now, these core religious functions are protected from direct government interference.

That’s not to say there won’t be non-governmental interference with these function, like vandalism, threats, slander, etc. Continue reading

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