Should Prisoners Be Paid Minimum Wage? (video)

Reframing Justice

The minimum wage in Arizona is $12 per hour. Arizona prisoners do a variety of jobs from manual labor to answering phones for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), for which they are paid anywhere between 10 cents to $3 per hour. The ADOT Service Arizona call center workers are the highest paid prisoners, but $3 per hour is far less than minimum wage.

Why should prisoners be paid more? 1) Because many of the prisoners have families “on the outside” who depended upon support from that person “on the inside”. 2) Because the prison industrial complex and the state of Arizona not only pay substandard wages to prisoners, they nickel and dime them and their families with fees. Yes, people “on the inside” and people “on the outside” pay fees to Corporate America and to government(s). The problem is that most prisoners lived in poverty before they went to prison, and their families likely don’t have the financial float to sustain them without a wage-earner and pay fees to stay in contact with their loved one.

The State of Arizona eliminated the Parole Board back in 1993, when “tough on crime” and “truth in sentencing” were vogue. Add this to the fact that the Republican-controlled Legislature jumped enthusiastically into private prisons during the Tea Party Reign of Terror.

Now, Arizona forces prisoners to serve 80 percent of their sentences (regardless of rehabilitation, good behavior or cost), imposes unnecessary fees for basic services to prisoners (like making an appointment with the doctor or having phone privileges to talk with their families), forces them to work nearly free to pay fees for services and necessities (like a second orange jumpsuit), and allows the Prison Industrial Complex to make millions on them while they are warehoused unnecessarily for years. When families visit prisoners, they can’t bring food in (because there could be a file in that cake), so they have to buy food from vending machines. You can imagine how much a family with children would spend on unhealthy vending machine food in a day at the prison. Loved ones come to the prison with $40 in quarters to buy substandard food while visiting. Prisoners (and their families) pay millions per year in concessions and fees to the Prison Industrial Complex– in addition to losing loved ones to an unjust system in an unjust state, which *eliminated* the Parole Board. People who signed “25 to life” plea bargains are being cheated by the State of Arizona. Five hundred inmates have served 25 years of a “25 to life” sentence and are now just sitting in prison because there is no parole. The least we can do is pay them for their labor. 

But even better, why not fix the prison system? Arizona locks up too many people for too long. In 2019, there was a lot of bipartisan enthusiasm for real prison reform. Unfortunately, a handful of powerful men stopped reform.

Many prison reforms are needed. For example, Arizona law used to state that for every two days of work a prisoner could get one day off of their sentence for good behavior. Years ago, the law was changed, and now prisoners have to work six days in order to get one day off. (We tried to change that back to 2:1 in 2019, but it was stopped by powerful Republican Legislators.) Not only are we paying slave wages, we are requiring prisoners to work much longer at these slave wages to get any benefit (besides some spending money). I learned today on Reframing Justice Day at the Capitol that since there is no Parole Board, prisoners have no good way of tracking their work time, besides the fact that parole has pretty much been eliminated. They also said that Arizona’s Clemency Board pretty much doesn’t do clemency. (What kind of medieval state do we live in?)

This is inhumane, unfair, and extremely expensive in terms of lost human capital, disrupted families,  out-of-pocket costs, and societal distress from children living without parents.

Who benefits from forcing prisoners to work years for very little money? Corporate America — and governments who want to save money– benefit. As long as there is a steady supply of workers who are forced to work for far less than minimum wage– like prisoners, migrants and university interns (who work for free), families will struggle, while corporations make money and governments save money, at their expense.

It’s time for all Arizona workers — regardless if where they live — to be paid minimum wage or more. Not less. Also, earned release and mandatory sentencing laws should be fixed. We shouldn’t be warehousing people unnecessarily.

Really… system-wide prison reform is necessary. I learned a lot about prisons during the interim. I participated in an Arizona Town Hall dialogue with prisoners at the Whetstone prison on South Wilmot and attended a Lucha Listens session with prisoners and family members. The stories are compelling. We need to listen and fix the system.

There are some modest reform bills in the Legislature. Will a handful of men stop reform again in 2020? If so, we can fix that problem in November 3, 2020.

Virginia Dumped the #GOP & Passed the #ERA (video)

ERA wins multiple Capitol Times awards, 2019.

January 15, 2020 is a red letter day for the women of the United States because the Virginia Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

While the Arizona Legislature has been tied up in pomp and circumstance, speeches, and meetings with lobbyists during this first week, Virginia got busy and passed the ERA. How did this move so quickly? The voters Virginia ousted the Republican majority from their legislature in the fall election and restored the Democratic Party to power in that state. Democrats get things done.

Now that Virginia has become the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA, it will be sent to the Congress to be made part of the Constitution.

Continue reading Virginia Dumped the #GOP & Passed the #ERA (video)

‘Religious Liberty’ vs Patient Rights: Healthcare Providers Should Disclose Religious Restrictions to Care

Should science or religion determine treatment?

Should healthcare providers and institutions be allowed to deny services to patients based upon the provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs”? I don’t think so. Discrimination is not OK.

This is the fourth year in a row that I have proposed a Patient’s Right to Know bill which requires healthcare providers and institutions to disclose upfront if they have any religious restrictions that would preclude them from providing all legal drugs and services within their scope of practice.

This is the first year that my bill made a splash in the news. Tucson residents may have seen the story about by bill HB2068 in the New Year’s Eve edition of the Arizona Daily Star, but it was also on the State of Reform website, in the Yellow Sheet (inserted below), and on KFYI radio. Providing or not providing services due to one’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” has been a hot topic since the infamous Hobby Lobby case in 2014.

HB2068’s popularity is likely due to the controversial nature of religious liberty legislation and to recent, high-profile court cases that harken back to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was proposed by Senator Ted Kennedy and then Congressman Chuck Schumer and signed into law by President Bill Clinton and in 1993. Although RFRA was declared unconstitutional21 states including Arizona have state RFRA laws, and the US Congress has passed 25 “conscience” bills related to healthcare.

When I was interviewed by one of the reporters he asked, “This is just about choice, right?” When I initially proposed this bill in 2017, it was about reproductive choice for me, but in 2019, when he asked me that question, I said, “No.” There are obviously other people who are being discriminated against for purportedly religious reasons.

Continue reading ‘Religious Liberty’ vs Patient Rights: Healthcare Providers Should Disclose Religious Restrictions to Care

Democracy Now: Compelling Stories about Extreme Wealth & Extreme Poverty in California (video)

Safe Park Homeless camp 2015
Safe Park Dream Pod, Tucson 2015
Safe Park Dream Pods for Tucson homeless,  2015

Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now radio show has a long history of hard-hitting, investigative journalism. Today’s show (October 25) juxtaposed Progressive Congresswomen Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib grilling Facebook CEO with a story about homelessness in California.

These stories represent the two sides of California– a land of extreme wealth and innovation that also houses 50 percent of our country’s homeless population, according to Goodman.

Excerpted from “State of Emergency”: Special Report on California’s Criminalization of Growing Homeless Encampments

“In a Democracy Now! special report, we look at the rise in homelessness in many major cities across the United States. California has become the poster child for this economic and humanitarian disaster, with growing encampments in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as more people are forced onto the streets. The state is home to 12% of the country’s population but half of the country’s unsheltered people. As the crisis deepens, so has the criminalization of homelessness, with increasing efforts by city and state officials to crack down on unhoused people occupying public space. President Donald Trump made headlines this month for attacking California’s politicians over the homelessness crisis, threatening to destroy encampments, increase police enforcement and even jail unhoused people. But advocates say California has already employed hostile policies that criminalize homelessness, from laws against unsheltered people sitting on sidewalks to frequent sweeps of the encampments that have popped up on thoroughfares and under freeways across the state’s cities. One of these crackdowns is currently unfolding at a massive Oakland encampment that Democracy Now! visited just a few weeks ago.”

Watch the video and read the story here.

 

 

 

Maternal & Child Health! The Movie! (video)

Selah

Now that I have your attention…

Who can resist babies doing yoga coupled with multiple exclamation points?

As many of you know, maternal and child health has been my focus for nearly a year now, ever since my strong, adorable, and intelligent granddaughter Selah was born with gastroschisis. Her three months in the Nursery Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Tucson Medical Center (TMC) in 2018 gave me a new appreciation for the human and financial costs related to adverse birth outcomes and high tech medicine.

When it comes to maternal and child health, I strongly believe that the state of Arizona can and should do better regarding:

  • Increasing access to prenatal, perinatal and postpartum care.
  • Decreasing the rates of premature and low birthweight babies.
  • Reducing the number of unintended pregnancies and nonmarital births.
  • Reducing toxic stress in and increasing opportunities for families and children by tackling chronic, systemic poverty in Arizona– particularly among single parent households.

Continue reading Maternal & Child Health! The Movie! (video)

Maternal & Child Health: a Public Health Model for Social Justice (video)

NICU

A few weeks ago, I gave the guest reflection at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson on maternal and child health in Arizona. Below is the text of my talk or you can listen to the podcast here. I have been talking with people for months about this topic, and many of you have expressed an interest in working on solutions to improve maternal and child health. My plan is to hold stakeholder meetings on the state of Maternal and Child Health in Arizona, with the goal of crafting bills for the 2020 session. Stay tuned on the PowersForThePeople.net blog and on my Facebook page. I will be giving another talk on this topic at the Salt of the Earth Labor College on September 21, 2019.

Prevention: A Public Health Model for Social Justice (reflection text)

As the Public Health Parable in the Message for All Ages previewed, today, we are going to talk about prevention not only a public health strategy but also a social justice strategy.

Like the industrious carpenter in the video, we are going to assess the current problems, walk upstream to examine the root causes, and brainstorm long-term solutions to tackle those root causes.

Rather than focus solely on putting out fires today—as our government often does—the Public Health Parable teaches us to not only put out the current fire but also to devote significant effort to preventing those fires in the future.

My original idea for today was to discuss three unfolding public health crises: migration, housing security, and maternal and child health, but when I started to pull everything together, I realized we would be here all day if we tackled upstream solutions for those three, highly complex issues.

These three seem like disparate topics– migration, housing security, and maternal and child health—but they have commonalities.

Can you name some?  

[Pause for audience to shout out ideas.]

Poverty is a big factor in all of these, right?

But many of the “isms” are also involved: racism, sexism, classism, capitalism. And let’s not forget capitalism’s destructive cousins: war, austerity and bad policy.

How we tackle the unfolding crises of migration, housing security, and maternal and child health could have wide-ranging, positive OR negative repercussions on children, families, communities, future generations, and the climate.

Now we’re talking interconnectedness of all life, right?

Today, I want to focus on the area that has received the least amount of attention: maternal and child health. We hear a lot in the news about migration and housing, but there is a statewide and nationwide crisis in maternal and child health that is being ignored.

Continue reading Maternal & Child Health: a Public Health Model for Social Justice (video)

Run Like a Girl: Reflections on Gym Class, Title IX, & the US Women’s Soccer World Cup Victory (video)

Soccer 1970s

The recent World Cup victory by the US women’s national soccer team collided in my brain today with my upcoming 50th high school reunion to conjure up a mixed bag of memories from gym class and women’s sports before Title IX made sex discrimination in educational programs illegal.

Throughout my school years, I was told that I was “not athletic”. When I couldn’t do things– like swim across the pool in swim class– the reason given was that I was “not athletic. You see, my Mom was telling me what she was told when she was a girl.  Mom didn’t know how to ride a bike or swim, and she offered these examples as evidence that she was “not athletic.” In reality, there were access and affordability issues, since Mom was a child of the Great Depression.

Gym Class Cemented My Loathing for Sports

Fast forward from the Great Depression to my childhood in the 1960s, Mom made sure we had bikes and learned to swim, but there were other physical education doors that were open to my brother and not to me. Discriminatory funding practices across physical education and sports offerings created an unlevel playing field for students from kindergarten through the university. Growing up, I was taught not to want activities like sports teams, weightlifting, or a variety of sports instruction in gym class because I was “not athletic.”

Continue reading Run Like a Girl: Reflections on Gym Class, Title IX, & the US Women’s Soccer World Cup Victory (video)

Is Pornography a Public Health Crisis? (video)

computer keyboard

We had a marathon Health and Human Services Committee Meeting today— with several long debates on topics including childcare subsidies, prescribing rights for pharmacists, expedited foster care and pornography.

To the supporters of the anti-pornography measure, I suggested that if we want people to practice healthy sexuality, we should be teaching medically accurate sex education in our schools. They were concerned about children and men watching too much porn on the Internet. Arizona is the third worst state in the country in terms of comprehensive and medically accurate sex education. If children and teenagers want to learn about sex and adults are not giving them any information, they will turn to the Internet.

Continue reading Is Pornography a Public Health Crisis? (video)

Trump Tax Cuts & AZ Tax Conformity (video)

Tax Conformity

Tax conformity with the Trump tax plan which was passed by Congress in December 2017 has been loping along in the Arizona Legislature … until today. This morning, the former Speaker and current Senator JD Mesnard did a presentation on what he wants us to pass for tax conformity. He has been quoted in the newspaper as saying that he wants tax conformity to be “revenue neutral”.

If Arizona decides to do full tax conformity, as Governor Ducey has suggested, Arizona will gain an estimated $150-$200 million per year extra for the general fund. If we do revenue neutral tax conformity as Mesnard has suggested, we will throw that extra $150-200 million revenue out the window by offering tax cuts along with tax conformity.

The December 2017 Trump tax plan raised the standard deduction and eliminated some itemized deductions. If you make less than a six-figure salary and you don’t itemize your taxes, you will be better off with tax conformity.

In order to ram these bills through the committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee have been rescheduled for Monday, January 28 at 10 AM. This is not the regular meeting time. We are required to vote on HB2522 and SB1143 simultaneously.

These bills were placed on agendas late today. If you are on Request to Speak (RTS), you have until Monday morning to voice your opinion. If you believe that Arizona should say “NO!” to more tax cuts and should use the money to cover state needs (or prop up the rainy day fund in the event of a Wall Street downturn), you want clean tax conformity— NOT revenue-neutral tax conformity as HB2522 and SB1143 propose. All hands on deck.

 

 

Arizona Requires AHCCCS Patients to Work (video)

hospital

The federal government has approved the state of Arizona’s waiver to require some Medicaid (AHCCCS) patients to work in order to get health insurance. Currently, 65% of of AHCCCS patients already work. They are on AHCCCS because their employers don’t offer medical benefits and/or because they aren’t paid enough. This waiver would require some AHCCCS patients to do at least 80 hours of work, school or volunteerism in order to continue to receive health insurance. Why if there are no jobs in your area? This could disproportionately hurt rural Arizonans.

The only state that has this work system for Medicaid is Arkansas. According to NPR, they have knocked 20% of their enrollees off of Medicaid by instituting work requirements. Denying access to affordable care is bad for parents and bad for our state.

In 2017, Republicans passed the second year of stingy TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). The drafters said as much as 30% of Arizonans could be knocked off TANF because of the additional regulations and increased bureaucracy.

We don’t need laws that are designed to hurt people who are poor or sick. We should be helping people become productive citizens— instead of casting them aside as if they are not worthy.