On Point video: 2015 Legislature gets into its groove

Watch “Holly on the Hill” blogger Holly Richardson and Michelle Mumford, former assistant dean at BYU Law School, discuss the first week of the 2015 Legislature – including the topics of Medicaid expansion, gas tax, police-community relations, education funding, religious freedom and nondiscrimination legislation – during the latest On Point broadcast. 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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Medicaid: A disconnect between debate and reality, Sutherland Soapbox, 2/3/15


Photo: Caremate

Photo: Caremate

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.

I want to discuss a topic of significant political news reporting this week: how should Utah deal with Medicaid expansion, as allowed and encouraged by Obamacare.

The proposals for expanding Utah’s Medicaid program being considered by the Utah Legislature are varied, including a plan for full Medicaid expansion using the traditional Medicaid program; Governor Herbert’s alternative plan for full Medicaid expansion under Obamacare using private health insurance; and the Health Reform Task Force recommendation to avoid Obamacare altogether and opt for a targeted expansion to the “medically frail.”

The defining feature of the debate can be summed up in one word: “complexity.” Health care generally is an extremely complex policy issue – whether morally, fiscally, economically or politically. Add to that the fact that we’re talking about health care for low-income Utahns, and the fact that the debate stems from an unpopular law named after a liberal sitting president, and the complexity and difficulty increases exponentially.

It should come as no surprise then that finding the right way forward has been hard to come by. Simply put, there is no easy answer to the question of Medicaid expansion. For our part at Sutherland, we think the federal involvement and restrictions on Medicaid policy make this herculean task nearly impossible, because the feds shoot down the ideas that hold the most potential to generate support.

But an even bigger problem with Medicaid policy and debate is the misguided focus on all sides about what Medicaid is and should be. First and foremost, Medicaid is and should be a response to poverty in society – an anti-poverty program, not a health care program. Another way of putting it is that we created Medicaid in the first place because poverty made health care unaffordable for some, not as a response to issues of public health.

But Medicaid policy and debate ignores this fundamental issue. Instead of trying to address the poverty of the poor, the debate focuses on improving health care for the poor. As a result, Medicaid policy obsessively focuses on the symptoms of the problem, such as access to doctors, payment rates for providers and costs to taxpayers, rather than on the problem itself, which is that poverty makes needed health care inaccessible and unaffordable for low-income Utahns. This disconnect between political debate and human reality drives much of the complexity of Medicaid policy debates, as liberals intuitively understand and focus on the symptoms of poverty and conservatives intuitively understand and focus on the problems created by programs like Medicaid.

A big part of the solution is to recognize and accept that Medicaid should be an anti-poverty program, not a health care program. The latter approach means that Medicaid will be a failure as policy if all it does is provide health care coverage to low-income Utahns, while doing little or nothing to help them get out of poverty. What’s more important, this new approach is likely to be better for society and the common good on all levels.

It is better morally because Medicaid will actually improve the lives of poor Utahns, by helping them get the education, life skills and networks they need to rise out of poverty, rather than naively assuming we’ve solved their problems by cutting a check for their medical bills. It is better fiscally because it provides a financial commitment from taxpayers that lasts only until an individual or family rises out of poverty, rather than an unending entitlement that adds to federal deficits and eats up ever-larger portions of state budgets. It is better economically because it means helping low-income Utahns become more prosperous and economically productive, while limiting the economic resources required to get and keep them in that position. And it is better politically because both liberals and conservatives are voicing understanding of the need to address poverty.

So what does this approach mean for dealing with Medicaid expansion today? It means Utah should focus on a minimal expansion of the current flawed approach to Medicaid, such as the targeted proposal for the medically frail, and then get back to the drawing board to reform Medicaid into a program that uses health care to combat poverty. Only then will we get a Medicaid program that is actually solving real problems, rather than just chasing after the next symptom.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Derek Monson. Thanks for listening.

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Vaccination: the debate that shouldn’t exist

measlesVaccines have fallen victim to their own success. They have worked so incredibly well that no one remembers the reality of the diseases that vaccines have kept at bay, and instead too many people, out of fear, focus on a very few bad outcomes.

The granddaddy of the anti-vaccine accusations, the infamous Wakefield study from 1998 – which claimed a link between the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine and autism – was a fraud.

Unfortunately it gave rise to an anti-vaccine movement, sped on its way by well-meaning parents (and others) with the best of intentions. Alarmed by the rise in autism cases, they looked for ways to reduce the chances of their children being affected by this disorder – especially if they already had family members with autism.

As the mother of an autistic 13-year-old, I empathize utterly. I’ve read many books, considered different treatments, and agonized over what I might possibly have done during pregnancy and birth to trigger autism in my son.

But fraudulent and misguided “science” has resulted in real harm. Resources that had to be spent in debunking this study and its fallout are resources that could not be used to direct scientific research into far more promising avenues. Who knows how much this unnecessary disaster has delayed real answers? How much time, money, effort and emotion have been wasted on this rabbit trail … and how much harm has it caused by casting aspersions on vaccines?

I fear that if parents choose not to vaccinate their children, the choice will ultimately be taken away from everyone. Don’t give the government a reason to mandate vaccinations. Be smart enough to do it of your own volition – and out of compassion for not-yet-vaccinated infants and the very few who really are medically unable to get vaccines.

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2015 Legislature: Testimony supporting partisan elections for state school board (SB 104)

TUtah_State_Capitol_2008estimony given by Stan Rasmussen Tuesday, Feb. 3, before the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee regarding Education Elections and Reporting Amendments (SB 104):

Sutherland supports SB 104 because it would replace the current incoherent, convoluted and complex state school board election system with one that produces clarity, transparency and accountability for voters and parents of children in public schools.

The system proposed in SB 104 produces clarity for voters and parents by giving them the same system to select state school board members that they use for every other state elected official in Utah. This system produces transparency by adding to state school board elections the heightened media scrutiny that partisan elections create through a narrative of partisan competition, as well as the heightened voter scrutiny that comes with the caucus-convention-primary system. Finally, this system produces accountability by incorporating voters and parents into every stage of the election process, rather than just after the candidate pool has been winnowed down, as the current system does.

In closing, you have heard today, and previously, that utilizing partisan elections to select state school board members is bad policy because it injects partisan politics into the state school board. Perhaps an appropriate response to this argument is a paraphrase of Winston Churchill: “[I]t has been said that [partisan elections] are the worst form of [elections] except all … other forms that have been tried.”

We encourage you to support SB 104. Thank you.

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S.L. Tribune op-ed: No reason to rush a Utah anti-discrimination law

sutherland file pictures 007(Salt Lake Tribune) Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week made an informative, thoughtful statement about the need to take a balanced approach to the connected issues of protecting the employment and housing rights of LGBT individuals and protecting everyone’s religious liberty and rights of conscience. They suggested a set of prudent principles to guide legislators’ consideration of these issues — principles Sutherland Institute endorsed shortly thereafter.

But to read the statements of the ideological left in Utah, one would think the church leaders simply said, “We support Sen. Steve Urquhart’s anti-discrimination bill, period.” In fact, the church did not announce support for any specific piece of legislation. And while political spin can be expected from those well-practiced in the craft, it gets a little awkward when the church says “Mormon leaders call for laws that protect religious freedom” (the headline on mormonnewsroom.org) but the spin machine mutates that into “In major move, Mormon leaders call for statewide LGBT protections” (the headline of The Salt Lake Tribune’s story on the news conference).

Click here to read the rest of this op-ed in the Tribune by Sutherland’s Derek Monson.


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How marriage law has shifted in 35 years

Wedding ringsIn many family law textbooks, two cases from the 1970s are juxtaposed.

The first is a 1976 California decision, Marvin v. Marvin, in which the California Supreme Court considered a claim by a woman who had cohabited with a celebrity (during part of the time of their cohabitation he was married to another woman) that she was entitled to a share of his property on the theory that they had entered a marriage-like agreement which required him to support her in the event they separated. The court decided: “The fact that a man and woman live together without marriage, and engage in a sexual relationship, does not in itself invalidate agreements between them relating to their earnings, property, or expenses.”

At the end of its decision, the court talked about the policy implications of its decision at some length:

[W]e believe that the prevalence of nonmarital relationships in modern society and the social acceptance of them, marks this as a time when our courts should by no means apply the doctrine of the unlawfulness of the so-called meretricious relationship to the instant case. As we have explained, the nonenforceability of agreements expressly providing for meretricious conduct rested upon the fact that such conduct, as the word suggests, pertained to and encompassed prostitution. To equate the nonmarital relationship of today to such a subject matter is to do violence to an accepted and wholly different practice.

We are aware that many young couples live together without the solemnization of marriage, in order to make sure that they can successfully later undertake marriage. This trial period, preliminary to marriage, serves as some assurance that the marriage will not subsequently end in dissolution to the harm of both parties. We are aware, as we have stated, of the pervasiveness of nonmarital relationships in other situations.

The mores of the society have indeed changed so radically in regard to cohabitation that we cannot impose a standard based on alleged moral considerations that have apparently been so widely abandoned by so many. Lest we be misunderstood, however, we take this occasion to point out that the structure of society itself largely depends upon the institution of marriage, and nothing we have said in this opinion should be taken to derogate from that institution. The joining of the man and woman in marriage is at once the most socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime.

Continue reading

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Rebecca Lockhart – Sutherland Soapbox, 1/27/15

lockhartuvuThis post is an expanded 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 last several days since the passing of former Utah Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart, and appropriately so. In a state accustomed to bidding farewell to significant leaders in their advanced age, Becky Lockhart was relatively young. But for those of us who have known and been privileged to associate with her, our feeling of loss and the genuine sense of mourning accompanying Becky’s passing arise out of more than sadness that a youthful, vibrant colleague has been taken from us in her prime. Becky Lockhart was a leader – “in every sense of the word,” as Governor Herbert emphasized in his Capitol memorial-service remarks. She was the real deal: a person whose compass, courage, capacity and compassion naturally attracted and influenced; whose work and example helped people recognize and protect what’s truly important and to preserve it, now and for posterity.

Upon the sudden death of Pres. John F. Kennedy, whose remarkable life also concluded in his 47th year, associates published their reflections under the title “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.” Gratefully, because of her 16 years of public service in elective office – more than a third of her life – we knew Becky; that she was, in fact, as distinctive as she has been warmly described in posthumous expressions of praise. The many glowing tributes are not hyperbole; she was a wonderful wife and mother, a cherished friend and neighbor, and a great public servant.

Eleven years ago, my associates and I became better acquainted with Representative Lockhart when she participated in the inaugural season of the Sutherland Transcend Series, a program for elected and civic leaders grounded in dimensions of effective community and political leadership – character, intellect, and process. Taking to the opportunity like a fish to water, Becky actively engaged and in so doing enriched the experience for fellow participants and helped define the format and refine the quality for all who followed. Continue reading

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Why we cheer National School Choice Week

school choiceThis week is National School Choice Week. School choice – the freedom of parents to move their child from a system of learning that is failing them to one that better meets their individual needs – has reaped many benefits for children and families across the state and the nation. This is especially true for parents and children living in poverty or in areas with failing public schools, whose need for the freedom to pursue other options is the greatest and where the potential benefit to society is the highest.

In honor of National School Choice Week, we recommend that you take a few minutes to browse the new Educational Freedom Wiki, just released by Cato Institute. This wiki explores and explains the problems in the public education system that create the need for school choice, the promise that school choice extends to children who are in failing schools and being left behind by the public education status quo, and policy ideas for offering that promise to more children and families.

As a state, Utah is doing moderately well in the arena of school choice – we are far from the worst state, but we are far from the best as well. In general, parents in most areas of the state have at least a few options to meet their child’s learning needs, whether home school, private school, digital learning, public charter school or traditional public school.

But many families in Utah still lack genuine educational opportunities, due to difficult financial, geographic or other circumstances. Continue reading

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Sutherland Institute endorses LDS Church’s principles on religious freedom and nondiscrimination

For Immediate Release: Jan. 27, 2015

Sutherland Institute welcomes the helpful comments from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this morning on religious liberty and nondiscrimination. We endorse the principles outlined in the press conference and look forward to continuing a constructive role in ensuring respect for these principles as the Utah Legislature considers these issues.

Sutherland Institute has long called for protection of religious freedom for individuals and organizations. This principle must be reflected in any proposed legislation. Residents of Utah and citizens everywhere are entitled not just to belief, but also to the free exercise of their religious beliefs and moral conscience—both in private and in public.

Our views and those of others will be refined as a civil conversation proceeds. An early version of Sutherland Institute’s efforts on these issues is included on the Institute’s website, FairToAll.org.

We also reiterate our position that Utah can address valid concerns of mistreatment in employment and housing and public services without contributing to an environment of intolerance toward people of faith and moral conscience.

Sutherland Institute is a state-based, independent public policy organization located in Salt Lake City. Its mission: protecting the cause of freedom, constructively influencing Utah’s decision-makers, and promoting responsible citizenship. Sutherland Institute is recognized as the leading conservative think tank in the state of Utah.


Click here to watch the press conference.

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The (legislative) game is afoot

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

We’ve collected some great little tools to get you primed for this year’s legislative session:

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Fundamental reform must precede increases in generally applicable taxes

Reymerswaele_Two_tax_collectorsSome Utah policymakers are proposing legislation this year that would increase generally applicable taxes on income and gasoline. Not surprisingly, these proposals have drawn the attention of the media and Utah pollsters, who have found that Utahns oppose raising income taxes for education.

Utahns’ hesitancy regarding tax increases is well founded. Government has a history of inefficiency (driven by a relative lack of systematic accountability for government-funded programs) and seemingly endless expansion (due to natural political forces). So it is very reasonable for Utahns to balk at the idea of giving more of their hard-earned money to government.

On the other hand, meaningful freedom requires limited government – or good government, in other words. And that has to be paid for with taxpayer dollars. Given the natural conflict between the freedom-based need for tax dollars and the reasonable impulse to be skeptical of tax increase proposals, how should Utahns and Utah policymakers evaluate such proposals?

One fundamental question (but certainly not the only question) to ask is: “Will this tax increase proposal bring fundamental, beneficial reform to government that serves the common good?” If a proposal to take more money from taxpayers cannot answer at least this question with a clear and convincing “yes,” then it is probably not a proposal worth considering further.

So take the proposal to raise individual income taxes by 20 percent (upping the rate from 5 percent to 6 percent). The money generated by this proposal (estimated to be $585 million in 2016) would go mostly toward providing bonuses to teachers based on performance, with the remainder being invested in digital learning.

Certainly, these reforms are steps in the right direction for public education. But are they truly fundamental and beneficial reforms that merit a tax increase? Continue reading

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Graphic: A bill’s long and winding road

Here’s a fun, easy-to-understand graphic on how a bill becomes a law in Utah. (Click to enlarge.) You can print it out and follow along with the 2015 Legislature …


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How complex regulations give big corporations the upper hand – Sutherland Soapbox, 1/20/15

Blurry_BuildingThis 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.

Recently I came across a complaint about corporate involvement in politics. The complaint initially rankled, probably because a corporation is really just an organized body of individuals, all of whom should be allowed to participate in the public process in the way they choose. Typically these types of complaints are really calls for more government regulation of the political process with all of the potential for abuse that entails.

This is not to say that corporations do not pursue interests at odds with the public good. Many companies promote trendy notions related to the family, for instance, such as population control or same-sex marriage, that prioritize adult interests over children’s needs. And, of course, some large businesses have managed to secure large amounts of public money in the form of bailouts and similar “corporate welfare” arrangements.

The possibility that groups can pursue aims at odds with the public good is hardly new. In Federalist 10, James Madison defined a “faction” in just this way — as a majority or minority which pursues ends which are not in the best interest of the community: “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

If the faction is a minority, the normal political process should be able to control it since its particular interest would be unpopular with the majority and our system is centered on majority votes: the majority can “defeat its sinister views … by regular vote.”

If the faction is majority, the risk is greater but can be ameliorated by the complex structure of the government (the “extended republic”) created by the Constitution, which can dilute the power of the majority by separating government powers among different entities and across different geographical and jurisdictional bodies.

Most proposed regulations have as their aim the one remedy Madison recognized as more dangerous than the disease — extinguishing liberty — by imposing restrictions on who may participate in the political process and how. Such regulations are subject to abuse. Just last year the Supreme Court heard a case involving a politician who had attempted to retaliate against a pro-life group that had criticized one of his votes by using campaign “reform” laws.

A more fruitful avenue for reform would be to look at the characteristics that make influencing government so attractive. Continue reading

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Our sympathies to Speaker Lockhart’s family

We extend our condolences to Speaker Lockhart’s family. We are deeply saddened that her serious illness and sudden passing bring to a close her remarkable life of personal and public service. Our prayers on her behalf now become expressions of gratitude for Becky’s friendship and example of integrity and courage.

– Sutherland Institute

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Statement on Supreme Court decision to hear same-sex marriage case

Sutherland Institute is encouraged that the Supreme Court is finally going to take the opportunity to correct the mistakes of so many federal courts that have said that the states are not free to define marriage as they always have. We hope that the Supreme Court will take seriously the child-centered purposes of marriage and the rights of voters to choose for themselves the kinds of laws that will govern them.

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