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Sam Hickman: Now is time for House to follow science, not drug lobbyists on meth issue

By Sam Hickman

Winston Churchill famously said "You can always trust the Yanks to do the right thing, after they have exhausted every possible alternative." We can only hope the same applies to the West Virginia Legislature in its final days.

Senate Bill 6 would make pseudoephedrine (PSE) available by prescription only. The House, bowing to pressure from lobbyists who are richly compensated to hold their masters' opinions, gutted the bill by removing the Rx-only provision. The message that hasn't gotten through is that children's lives should count more than maximizing corporate profits.

Most children removed from West Virginia homes due to abuse and neglect come from drug-involved homes. Many of these are meth lab homes. The state of Oregon was removing hundreds of kids from meth lab homes before enacting Rx-only legislation. In the seven years following enactment through last fall, not one - not a single child - had to be removed from a meth lab home. It's hard for me to imagine that former Mississippi Governor Haley Barber, who cut his teeth as a tobacco lobbyist, was a big fan of Rx-only legislation when he first heard about it.

Yet, this week, he sent a letter to West Virginia lawmakers saying the move absolutely saved lives. How many times have we heard "Thank God for Mississippi" as a way of saying, "at least West Virginia is not last in everything." If a tobacco lobbyist-turned-governor can see the light, maybe there is still hope that West Virginia House members can muster the courage to say "We, and our children, are not for sale!"

The corporate lobbyists also objected to raising the minimum wage. Apparently, the corporations pulling their strings are resigned to some increase but preferred none. Fortunately, there is a national debate on and support for raising the minimum wage. As it is, the House would increase the minimum wage 75 cents in each of two years. The Senate would raise it 25 cents the first year, 50 cents the second and 75 cents the third. One lobbyist told senators that, if wages go up, low-wage workers could lose Medicaid benefits and have to pay more for health insurance. What the lobbyist didn't know is that low-wage workers and their families - should they be lucky enough to earn more than $26,951 a year for a family of three - would qualify for heavily subsidized health insurance coverage through the health care marketplace, where they are likely to find very affordable and better coverage. I know from experience that thinking on your feet in front of a legislative committee can be a harrowing experience, but I was always told it's best to be clear about the limits of your knowledge.

The Governor's proposed budget cut of $980,000 - literal drop in the state budget bucket - would ruin worthy programs that help children stay safe, help parents create healthier emotional and physical environments, and help families become self-sustaining, productive members of society. Kudos to the House for restoring these funds by appropriating some of the Consumer Protection Fund in the Office of the Attorney General. This is a great way to protect (and grow!) future consumers. The kids and families programs funded would include Child Advocacy Centers, Starting Points learning centers, and grants to communities to address child abuse and neglect. Money was also appropriated to reduce the wait list for in-home care to allow the elderly and disabled to choose home care over institutional care. The Consumer Protection Fund will retain an adequate balance, and the AGs and his staff will have incentive to replenish the fund through additional consumer protection actions.

If these issues resonate with you, now is the time to contact your senator to demand that they hold the line on Rx-only PSE, accept the House minimum wage provisions and accept the House budget allocating funds to essential programs.

Now is the time to contact your Delegate to demand that they accept the Senate Rx-only PSE provision, and fight to hold the line on both the minimum wage increase and funding for essential programs.

Visit legis.state.wv.us/ to find phone numbers, and if you can, come to the Capitol on Saturday to express your opinion and witness how things turn out. If nothing else, you'll learn who you want to vote for, or against, in this election year.

Hickman is chief executive officer of the National Association of Social Workers West Virginia Chapter.


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