Just when you thought Congress had hit rock bottom, came news last week that US School Lunch guidelines willcontinue to feature French fries and pizza (with the tomato paste counting as a vegetable). Congress caved to the frozen pizza and French fries lobbyists—a weighty force in DC. Click here for details. The news came as I attended a national legislative conference held last week in the Duke City about the epidemic of obesity among school children and the coming diabetes epidemic that the Institute for Medicine now says will hit 2 out of 10 Americans by 2030.
Here in New Mexico we’re already on the front lines, with 33% of our children obese or overweight. Among Albuquerque public school students, the rate is 34%, or 22,000 children in grades K through 8. Here are two maps of Senate District 13 showing that 19-25% of local 8th graders are extremely obese, and that 35% or more 5th graders are overweight and obese.
Obesity is currently costing New Mexico $329 million in medical costs each year, but the good news is that the National Conference of State Legislators brought their conference here, because we are beginning something about it. Schools like Griegos Elementary are holding fun runs, and trying to integrate more physical activity into each day, despite the lack of funding for PE. Students and teachers are planting community gardens at Alvarado and Kirtland elementary schools and students in the Valley cluster enjoy fresh fruit and vegetable snacks from New Mexico several times a week, thanks to a pilot program I started a few years ago. But there’s much more to be done.
Republican Party Seeks to Overturn State’s Campaign Contribution Limits—Groups Fight Back
New Mexico’s hard-fought measure to limit campaign contributions and the influence of big money on politics, which I co-sponsored in 2009, is the target of a lawsuit brought by the Republican Party, the oil and gas industry and Sen. Rod Adair. The lawsuit is part of a nationwide effort spearheaded by Indiana lawyer James Bobb in advance of next fall’s elections. The suit is aimed at the contribution limit of $5,000 to parties and political action committees—both the source of big money in campaigns. Bobb was the lawyer in Citizens United, which determined that individuals and corporations could make unlimited contributions to support or oppose candidates as long as they don’t contribute directly to them.
Sen. Adair was the lone vote against the 2009 bill in the Senate, which brought reform to one of the last states to allow unlimited contributions. I read the brief and was amazed at its audacity. It repeatedly states that the reason for the suit is because the Republican Party, Adair, Harvey Yates (head of the oil and gas association) “are ready, willing and able” and want to make and accept contributions greater than $5,000 RIGHT NOW.
So much for one person, one vote.
Meanwhile, there’s action on a national level to halt the systematic effort to dismantle campaign finance reform and prevent big donors from crowding out the rights of ordinary folks who cannot make huge contributions.
Citizens are beginning to fight back against the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens’ United which removes controls on special interest spending and gives corporations the same rights as individuals. A recent public opinion survey by Hart Research found that 57% were dissatisfied with our political system, and 79% favor a constitutional amendment that would overturn the ruling and make clear that corporations are not people, and Congress has the authority to limit corporate spending on elections.
Amending the US Constitution is a long process but it has been done many times. Sens. Tom Udall, Dick Durbin, Jeff Merkley, Chuck Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse are starting the process by collecting petition signatures. Sign here to allow Congress to regulate the big money. Another organization in town recently is pushing for a broader amendment to ensure corporations are not considered people. For more information go towww.freespeechforpeople.org.
The Health and Human Services Interim Committee, which I chair, has heard a season’s worth of testimony about the alarming increase in drug overdoses, (New Mexico is now number one) prescription drug and teenage heroin addiction, Native American suicides, and more. We’ve heard about health insurance rates, “medical homes,” and other ways to bend the rising curve of health care costs. We have followed the new administration’s approach to health care reform (an Office of Health Care Reform has now been set up and New Mexico is applying for a $34 million grant to set up a health care exchange). We continue to wait for even a barebones plan to “modernize” the Medicaid program, as promised by the Human Services Department in June.
The final meeting of the committee will be held Nov. 30-Dec. 1. Still hanging in the balance is how to structure a Health Care Exchange, a marketplace for health insurance policies that is a major component of health care reform. The Governor vetoed my exchange bill in March. Stay tuned for action on this item during the upcoming session.
Neighborhood News: Local Heroes
I continue to be so proud of Griegos Elementary. They are the only school in New Mexico to receive the US Dept. of Education’s Blue Ribbon Award for the 2011 school year. It’s a tribute to several years of hard work by the students, teachers, family and staff. Principal Tom Graham deserves extra credit, too.
I am likewise proud of the Alvarado Neighborhood’s Joining Hands project, now on display in the new education building at the Rio Grande Nature Center where Candelaria dead ends into the river. Kathy Chilton and Lauri Dickenson know how to make beautiful lemonade out of lemons. The lemons here were the contentious feelings about the state construction project—and the lemonade consists of the beautiful montage of hands attached to neighbors of all sizes and stripes. No two are alike! The exhibit will be on view until Dec. 18, Saturdays and Sundays 2-4 p.m. Free! Visit this web page for more info.