The Farley Report from Phoenix #165: 12-18-12

Howdy, Friends O'Farley… 

For many of us, this is a tough holiday season. All our hearts go out to the people of Newtown, Connecticut -- we Tucsonans understand the feelings that follow the horror of senseless violence.  

Many of you are asking, what can we do to stop these awful events from happening ever again? I wish there was an easy answer.  

I support the Second Amendment, and I also support common sense. There is no legitimate hunting or self-defense purpose for anyone to need a 33-bullet magazine. I am encouraged that there appears to be a bipartisan effort in Congress, including among some NRA members, to enact a ban on extended-capacity ammunition magazines -- like the bill I introduced in Arizona in 2011. We need uniform national regulations, not a patchwork of laws in individual states that might lead to smuggling. 

We also need a renewed focus on identifying and providing services to the mentally ill among us and those who live with them, particularly young men who are struggling with their adjustment to adulthood. The cuts to behavioral health services in Arizona over the past four years have been devastating. We must renew our commitment to keeping our state safe and healthy for everyone.

But neither magazine restrictions nor mental health services will ensure a future free of massacres. My sense is that the solution is much more complex and will take all of our commitment in many different ways. The way forward involves strengthening the bonds between us as we rebuild our sense of community in a variety of ways. 

Many scientists are becoming concerned that our internet usage, including Facebook, texting, games, and simply websurfing actually changes the structure and function of our brains in similar ways to cocaine addiction and impulse control disorders. As we become increasingly wired, we seem to be changing who we are as a species. 

Our predominant transportation and residential patterns for decades have led us toward increasing isolation from one another--driving alone, watching TV alone, working at home alone--, and that isolation together with wall-to-wall news of horrible things happening to others around the world causes many of us to react with fear and suspicion to people different from us, and has led to a rise in depression and suicide rates.

As elected officials, I believe that we have an obligation to respond to these complex problems in complex and appropriate ways. The primary immunization to societal atomization is to build infrastructure that encourages community. High-quality public transit, engaging public celebrations, inviting public spaces, opportunities for regular physical activity to get us off our computers and TVs, access to all for good healthcare (behavioral and physical), housing that encourages interaction, mixed-use developments where you can live, work, and shop nearby, good public schools with small class sizes and strong parental involvement, seniors living with people of all ages rather than age-segregated, and community policing projects are all components of a holistic approach to reducing senseless violence in our society. 

Let's work together and continue to talk about how we move forward, with all our challenges and changes, to a healthier society. In this way we can turn our despair into resolve.

Speaking of public health, the Governor made a decision a couple of weeks ago that is not setting us on the right path. After spending 18 months and $9 million out of $30 million in grant money from Washington to set up an Arizona-run health exchange, Governor Brewer returned from the Republican Governor's Association meeting and announced that she was not going to set up an Arizona exchange after all. She said would let the Feds run it, and she used the opportunity to take a few more partisan potshots at the President. 

These exchanges are markets where those of us without employer-provided health insurance can buy individual plans that are affordable, comprehensive, and individualized on a web interface that is very much like the travel websites Expedia or Kayak. When it goes live in late 2013 this will be a HUGE benefit to sole proprietors and very small businesses who've been struggling to find affordable health plans for many years. 

While some of us might think that the Feds would do better than the leadership of this state, that turns out not to be the case. The person who was slated to set up our exchange, Don Hughes, has become one of the nation's true experts in exchanges, and is a man of integrity and high intelligence who truly wants to help our health care system improve. 

Additionally, the federal exchange will likely include only large national insurance companies, since smaller local plans may not be able to afford the national certification costs. That means less competition and higher premiums for everyone -- even those not taking part in the exchange. A state exchange would encourage much more competition, send more money into our local economy, and reduce costs overall. Once the federal-run exchange ends up costing more for us all, I'm guessing the Governor won't be blaming herself for a bad decision… 

Speaking of other bad decisions, several leaders of the legislative majority have been saying that they want to turn down the deal of the century for the Arizona economy. There are federal matching funds on offer -- at up to a 100% match! -- if we return single childless adults in poverty to eligibility for AHCCCS and increase eligibility overall to 133% of the federal poverty line. Not only would that help improve the lives of those in poverty, it would return our hospitals to fiscal health by dramatically reducing their costs for unreimbursed care. 

This Medicaid expansion would pump $5 billion a year into our economy over the next four years. That's money that goes through our hospitals, doctors, nurses, labs, and scientists, into our local shops and restaurants. If we turn down this money, it will be for no other reason but to once again thumb our noses at the President because legislative leaders don't like him. That money would then go to other states. 

Watch this one carefully -- I really think that the Arizona people are sick and tired of being hurt by hollow political posturing from our leaders. Turning down $20 billion so Arizonans in poverty can go without healthcare and the rest of us get an extended recession does not represent who we are as a state.

That's just a few of the issues I will be working on in the upcoming session -- I've also been developing a number of bills on other topics which I will share with you once the Farley Report turns weekly once again after session begins on January 14. I will be sitting on the Finance Committee, the Government and Environment Committee, and I am the Ranking Member on the Transportation Committee.  I deeply appreciate the opportunity to serve you in the State Senate.

On a personal note, I turn 50 on Christmas Eve. You've already given me the best present ever -- your trust and faith in me as your Senator-Elect. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator-Elect, District 9, Tucson

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