Monday, March 16, 2009

Democratic Process in Action

The Utah Legislative session for 2009 is over, and HB 124, which affected the lives of many Utah families who struggle to pay for the formula that keeps their severely allergic kids thriving, didn’t make it to the Senate floor.

That means it failed.

So those families are still faced with paying hundreds of dollars a month for the only formula that their babies can ingest, because insurance companies view it as “unnecessary.”

Frustrating as it was, following the progress of this bill was interesting. I participated in the democratic process for this bill by emailing my local representatives early on, then emailing all of them last week, asking for their support. When it passed the House and was sent to the Senate this week, I emailed Minority Leader Rep. David Litvack asking him to prioritize the bill so that it would get read in the Senate. It was assigned #20 on the list, so it never got read before time ran out.

Despite the fact that the bill failed, this is what I learned: it’s surprisingly easy to participate in this process of government. I sent three little emails. It took maybe a minute of my life each time. Three minutes total. And it came close to making a difference.

What was even more surprising was that I actually got responses from several of the representatives – all but one of the ones who responded said they supported the bill. The one who didn’t outright support it was honest enough to tell me he wanted to learn more about the bill and about why the finance note was removed before he would vote for it. I appreciated that.

These representatives must get tons of emails. They’re faced with a zillion bills to review, make a decision on, and vote on. Most of those bills are either incomprehensible or imbecilic, and this year everything was complicated by the distracting background noise of Utah’s economy being sucked down the drain. And this bill, I admit, probably wouldn’t be high on anyone’s list if they weren’t affected by the diseases that it covers. Yet several of the representatives actually took a minute of their time to write back to me to tell me their stand on it.

It was an interesting experience, even if it didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped. Last year (and the year before that), our allergic families were successful in getting legislation passed that makes it legal for our kids to carry their epinephrine shots in school, and lets responsible adults like teachers, counselors, and coaches get prescriptions to carry and administer epinephrine to kids in their charge. That legislation made it through the legal process successfully. So we know it can happen, and we know there are people in the legislature who care about our medical issues.

So next year, I hope the people who supported us this time will support us again, and we’ll see if this bill gets passed. And I’ll be ready with my mouse poised over the Send button on my email. A little communication with the real people casting the votes really can make a difference. Who knew?

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