Big Tobacco and the Vote for Oregon's Kids

By Chris Nicholson of Portland, Oregon. Chris is a Reed College student and the organizer of Oregon Healthcare for Kids - and is organizing a rally this Thursday at the capitol. (Details below.)

Karen Minnis is up to it again.

House Bill 3500, which would provide healthcare to the over 100,000 Oregon kids who are uninsured, is a bill Oregon legislators can't afford to vote against. It's a measure which, if it were put to the voters, would pass overwhelmingly because it does something most Oregonians agree is fundamentally right; HB 3500 provides healthcare for all of Oregon's kids.

But Speaker Minnis believes that just because something would pass, doesn't mean it should be voted on. In her view, if someone in power, her, for example, opposes a piece of legislation on the grounds that it's a tax increase, then hey, its perfectly fine to subvert the majority and prevent her colleagues from voting on it.

Never mind the fact that all she's really doing is preventing a vote by the people on the measure, as it would go to the people to be voted on were it ever considered and passed in the legislature. So no, Karen Minnis isn't just subverting the majority will of the Legislature, she's subverting the majority will of the people of Oregon. And all because Karen Minnis can't stomach letting the people vote on a tax increase.

Does anyone else think Minnis is just still stinging from Measure 30?

The fact is that this bill is very different from Measure 30; its a cigarette tax, and one which would go to paying for healthcare for kids. Cigarette taxes have been easier to pass in previous cases than normal tax increases, and children's healthcare is a very popular issue with the voters. Minnis knows this, and yet she's still not willing to let the bill be considered on the floor of the house.

Could it be that Karen Minnis has taken money from the tobacco industry in the last two election cycles for which data is available (2002 and 2000). Why, yes she has.

In the end, this issue isn't about Karen Minnis, or partisan squabbling, or contributions from tobacco companies. It's about the kid in fourth grade who can't read the board because he can't afford to get eye glasses. Or the pee-wee football player who always has to leave the game early because he can't afford the asthma inhaler he so badly needs. It's about the girl who always has the runny nose because her parents can't pay for the allergy medication or allergy shots which would make her feel better.

Finally, it's the four year old girl whose parents smoke cigarettes who will grow up with all kinds of health problems because of second hand smoke. These are kids who end up going to the emergency room and wasting taxpayer dollars because they can't get the preventative healthcare they need. And that's why this bill makes sense. Because it's cheaper to fix a small problem before it becomes a big one.

Chris Nicholson is a politically active Reed College student and the organizer of Oregon Healthcare for Kids, a group working to get a vote on House Bill 3500, which would provide healthcare for the over 100,000 Oregon kids who don't have it. Oregon Healthcare for Kids is holding a rally this Thursday on the capitol steps from 11 AM to 2 PM to protest Minnis' inaction. Speakers will be Senators Alan Bates and Vicki Walker, Representatives Jeff Merkley, Mitch Greenlick, and Billy Dalto, and Oregon College Republicans Chair John Swanson. Click here for more info and carpool information.

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