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The Alabama Voter 
Summer 2010 Edition
Published July 19, 2010


Report on LWVAL Council

May 15, 2010
by Kathryn Byrd, LWVAL Co-President


The League of Women Voters of Alabama held its biennial council meeting in Auburn, with LWV of East Alabama President Laura Hill and her committee serving as hostesses. We had a very full agenda, and completed everything on the list. All six local leagues were represented, and the usual business of treasurer’s reports and minutes were quickly dispatched. Because of the schedule requirements of one of the speakers, we did Ed Fund business first, including our proud discussion of the impressive LWVAL Voter Guide on judicial candidates posted our website. Bob Sims from indicated he had posted notice about it in his papers.

Health Care Reform

Our first speaker, Auburn Professor Dr. Rene’ McEldowney, provided an excellent workshop entitled “Fact of Fiction: Key Issues in Health Care Reform,” during which she described the US as the “Country of the Status Quo,” leading to fear of change in the health care arena. This presentation provided important information for use in the current LWVAL study on health care reform. After providing a historical overview, she made the following points regarding the new federal health care act, cautioning that much needs to be worked out for the details:
1. Low income individuals whose annual income of 133% of the poverty level will qualify for Medicaid.
2. There are mandates for employer contributions and for individuals to have health care. The largest group that is currently uninsured is the 19-35 year old age group.
3. There will be some sort of insurance exchange for the self-employed or small businesses that will offer regulated plans to everyone without another source of coverage. For individuals, income will be considered, and there will be no lifetime maximums.
4. Children can remain on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26, even if they are not in school, but premiums will surely rise.

Some changes have to be implemented six months after passage, which will be this fall. Other regulations won't go into effect until 2014 and some changes will not be phased in until 2017.

For all plans there will be some sort of insurance rate regulation, but, again, the particulars need to be worked out. Changes to be considered include streamlined paperwork (ha!), prohibiting gender discrimination, denial on the basis of preexisting conditions, etc. Medicare, whose overhead is about 3%, was touted as the model to adopt. Currently private insurance administrative costs can be as high as 33%.

There also needs to be improved quality control. An estimated 90,000 lives are lost annually to medical error. Another needed reform is further reliance on primary care. Ours is a national of expensive specialists. The bill says more money should go to primary care. In addition, preventative measures should require no co-pay.

Another trend is evidence-based medical practices. Also, the bill addresses the “donut hole” in current plans, with a $250 rebate this year to those who are eligible.

One down side to these changes is reduced privacy issues, especially with the way paperwork will be handled.

Finally, Dr. McEldowney noted that Alabama was the last state to adopt Medicaid. As Dr. Wayne Flynt noted, Alabama takes pride in being “poor but proud.” Currently Alabama pays $1 and the federal contribution is $3 but 1/3 of the general fund budget does to Medicaid. Alabama also needs to reduce the number of uninsured that remain in Alabama and lower uncompensated care for hospitals and providers.

“Coaching” Local Leagues

Our luncheon speaker was Mobile President Mary McGinnis, who chairs the new coaching program in Alabama on behalf of the LWVUS Membership Recruitment Initiative (MRI). Mary and Mobile League member Deb Butler attended a two-day workshop in Charlotte, NC, learning how to increase membership numbers and effectiveness in our state. Through her PowerPoint presentation, Mary stressed that the purpose is to help increase League visibility, and, hence, attract and retain members. The goal is to increase membership at least 5%, targeting especially women who have retired or are about to retire.

Scarlett Gaddy, LWVAL Membership Chair, and Kathy Byrd also serve on the Coaching Team. Each League will be assigned one of the coaches, who will provide a workshop to help Leagues implement the program. This initiative is not one more layer of work to be imposed on already busy local leagues, but rather provides ways to streamline and become effective in what each local league is already doing. Each local league has already received a worksheet to help develop a current profile, and to help identify needs.

Charter Schools: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Dr. Lynn Patrick from Auburn University addressed Council participants on the history of charter schools and the issues involving charter schools. Dr. Patrick has served as a charter school principal.

According to Dr. Patrick, a local school board approves a charter for a charter school for 3 years (5 years in some cases). Unlike private schools, a charter school charges no tuition, has no religious affiliated, or admission requirements. The parents apply for their child(ren) to attend, and students’ names are selected by lottery. Charter schools should to be confused with private-for-profit and private-nonprofit schools, or with magnet schools, who screen potential students on the basis of predetermined criteria. Charter schools are required to teach the state course of study, but are allowed much greater latitude in teaching methods.

In Alabama, the issue of charter schools caused very heated debate and a flurry of media ads this past year. Apparently a state’s receiving some of the federal “Race to the Top” awards from President Obama’s administration include demonstrating the use of “innovative programs” such as charter schools. In Alabama, the Alabama Education Association vehemently fought the adoption of charter schools, claiming, among other things, that teachers in charter schools do not receive the benefits of tenure. Other opponents argue that charter schools potentially lead to greater “white flight” from the schools, and drain badly needed money from the public schools. Also some data show that students in many charter schools have not performed well on standardized measures.

See Laura Hill’s report for more details.

Advocacy Report

Anne Permaloff spoke on behalf of the LWVAL Advocacy Committee. She noted the impact of current economic factors (i.e., recession, upheaval in the financial and housing markets and high unemployment) have combine to “reduce the revenue stream” into the General Fund and Education Trust Fund. Revenue actions are restricted greatly by the 1901 Alabama Constitution. Therefore, most League-supported action either failed to leave committee, or else passed the House, only to be buried in the Senate. These included Rep. McLaughlin’s bill to end PAC-to-PAC transfer and Rep. Holmes bill to grant subpoena power to the Ethics Commission.

A few League-supported bills did pass to help protect our natural resources and address causes of climate change by supporting the purchase of energy efficient products, improving fuel efficiency of large trucks, and creating a staffed Legislative Energy Policy Office. Sen. Ted Little’s bill establishes energy development grants and takes other positive steps toward an energy policy for the state.

Adoption of Emergency Charter School Study

The LWVAL board voted to recommend the adoption of an emergency study on charter schools. Although we voted at the 2009 LWVAL convention to adopt a study to see whether we should update our current education, the board realized that we are unable to weigh in on the charter school issue until we study and possibly come to consensus. The charter school study will need to be recommended again by the board for study at the 2011 convention.

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