By: Kathleen Stoll
November 14, 2022
Beyond the much discussed, high-profile results of the Nov. 8 election, I’d like to share some good ideas from other states that flew a bit under the radar screen in most of the national media coverage. There are three good ideas that voters supported overwhelmingly at the ballot box that merit a look and that our West Virginia Legislature might want to think about.
They aren’t terribly complicated to understand or really that controversial. They were popular with Republican and Democratic voters because they addressed real needs that working families face daily.
New Mexico passed Constitutional Amendment 1 to become the first state in the nation to create a permanent fund helping working families pay for child care. More than 70% of NewMexicans agreed to amend the state constitution and guarantee additional spending on early childhood education in the ballpark of $125 million a year.
The amendment also increases funding for services for at-risk students in public schools. The money comes from a state fund that receives revenue from oil and gas leases and royalties.
Like West Virginia, New Mexico has been a leader in prioritizing early childhood education. In May, New Mexico waived the cost of child care programs, making it free for most families earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level, or $111,000 for a family of four. In West Virginia, we have free public preschool for kids starting at age 4.
Arizona voters overwhelmingly voted to decrease interest rates on medical debt. Arizona Proposition 209 passed with support from more than 75% of voters. Prop 209 reduces the maximum interest rates on medical debt from 10% to 3% annually. The measure would make certain assets exempt from debt collection, such as homes, household items, cars and bank accounts. “It would mean that you can actually stay in your house, keep your car and not have to work three jobs and still not get by.
People might even look to get another job and not have to work under the table to avoid the interest. They won’t have that fear hanging over their head,” said Liz Gorski, an advocate for medical debt collection reform who was left with thousands of dollars in medical debt after a car accident.
Massachusetts became the first state to regulate the profits of insurance companies that offer dental coverage. A ballot referendum passed with more than 70% voter support to require insurers to spend a certain percentage of the premiums they collect on actual dental care. The Medical Loss Ratios for Dental Insurance Plans Initiative will require dental insurers to spend at least 83% of premiums on dental services, versus administrative or other overhead costs, or refund the excess to beneficiaries. The Massachusetts Dental Society and the American Dental Association actively supported the referendum.
In West Virginia, our Legislature is the only body with the power to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. We now have what I call a “super-nova majority” of Republicans in our Legislature.
I hope those Republicans will keep in mind how working West Virginia families struggle to make ends meet. Our families struggle to afford child care, they struggle to pay medical and dental bills. These three ballot measures point to positive actions that our Legislature can emulate that will unite West Virginians and help our workers and their families. That brings us together around positive initiatives rather than pulling us farther apart.
And let me close with this final political commentary from my local political pundit at the Food Lion checkout, who takes pride in being open-minded, not voting strictly one party, but confesses to leaning Republican. She correctly noted that a guy in neighboring Pennsylvania with a fashion sense strongly geared to hoodies and shorts has won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Bridging any political differences, together we pondered the important question: Will he wear a suit or a hoodie in those congressional marble halls? The political pundits haven’t really reached consensus on this important question, but she and I agree that we will be disappointed if the hoodies disappear.
Kathleen Stoll is policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.
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