Utah Legislators Want to Get Rid of a Law Voters Just Approved at the Ballot Box, So Utahns Held a Rally at the Utah State Capitol to Keep It
During a rally to preserve a law voted on by Utahns this past election, Paul Gibbs asked fellow healthcare advocate Karina Andelin Brown to bring his little child to the front. Gibbs’ child, he explained, is alive because of Medicaid. Because the federal health care system allowed Gibbs to be alive.
Gibbs was just one of many advocates who spoke at the Utah state capitol Jan. 28 in favor of the legislature preserving Utah’s Medicaid-expansion law that passed when Utah voters approved Proposition 3 in the election two-and-a-half months ago. That’s because Utah lawmakers are seeking to rewrite it — the Utah Senate passed a bill Feb. 4 that would do it. Jan. 28 was the first day of the 2019 Utah legislative session.
“The people of Utah made the choice to care for their fellow human beings. And when any legislator claims that those voters did not understand … that not only insults their intelligence, it insults and denies their basic goodness and humanity and I will not stand for that. Because I love and believe in the people of Utah,” Gibbs said. “I have seen what they can do when they come together as one voice and make an informed and compassionate choice against the enemies of humanity: poverty, illness and death. And when they make that choice, no one has that right to take that choice away from them.”
That was followed by eight chants of “No delay!” from the standing-room-only crowd in the Utah capitol rotunda.
Ormsby, the director of American Association of Retired Persons Utah, called “Rally Against Repeal” by proponents. “Prop. 3 is the law of the land,” he said. “Certain legislators want to thwart the will of the people, but we are not going to let that happen.”
AARP Utah has been working to expand Medicaid in the Beehive State since 2012, Ormsby said. “And we are not going backwards, that’s for sure,” he remarked. “We are not about to let a few legislators repeal and replace what has taken us so many years to get. You know how hard it is to even start a ballot initiative in Utah.”
Ormsby said “a group of courageous people” in Medicaid-expansion proponents knew they would have to gather 113,000 valid signatures. “We approached total strangers and we told them ‘this is why Medicaid matters,’” Ormsby said. “This is why your … neighbors desperately need medical care. … And we helped them know that 14,000 quality jobs would come as a result.” Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates taxes for healthcare, Utahns are paying taxes that are going to Washington, D.C. and other states. “We really expect $800 million of our own money to come back into our state,” Ormsby later said to loudest cheers to date and perhaps those highest in volume of the rally, which lasted more than an hour.
Ormsby later said that folks “did not blindly sign their name to anything” in signing the petition. “They decided what they wanted to see in our state,” he said. “Prop. 3 finally came to the ballot. Voters came out in droves to make their voices heard.” More than 580,000 Utahns voted in favor of the proposition, Ormsby said. “Many people told me this was the first time they had voted,” he said.
“When have you ever heard of voters in Utah approving a tax increase?” Ormsby said. “We did it. We got it done.” April 1 is the date that the law is supposed to take effect.
Heslington, a former Latter-day Saint bishop, said that three “hard-working congregation members” died while waiting for Medicaid expansion, pointing out that 53 percent of voters approved Medicaid expansion.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox are in favor of the new law, and a recent column by an editor of the right-leaning Deseret News contained the warning “do not mess with voter-approved initiatives,” Heslington said.
Heslington then called out the particular measures countering the law, Senate bills 196 and 197 from Republican Sens. Allen Christensen and Jake Anderegg, respectively.
“We don’t want an eighth consecutive legislative failure in 2019,” Heslington then said.
Hayashi, the Episcopal Diocese of Utah bishop, said “our legislature has not represented us” after six years of legislative efforts for Medicaid expansion.
“As a result of that, we finally took it to the ballot to provide conclusive evidence that yes indeed, the polls were correct,” Hayashi said, having said that polls said that Utahns wanted Medicaid expansion.
“Utah decided,” Hayashi added. “They decided that we needed this Medicaid expansion for those who sorely need it.”
Hayashi also asked: “how much is a human life worth?”
Suggesting that it is a lot, Hayashi then said “it seems to be the case that some of the people in the state who serve in the government do not have that same opinion.”
“Make no mistake; this is a poison pill,” he added. “This is a poison pill literally because of the delay that will happen (where) people will die. And after six years of delays, people will die.”
“We’ve had enough,” he also said. “Make your voices heard.”
Following that was a chant started by Ormsby of “Hey, hey, voters say, keep Prop. 3 our way!”
Stevenson, the ACLU of Utah strategic communications manager, said that “when the voters speak,” “that stands for something” after saying the ACLU is “a little late to the game of ballot initiatives and Medicaid expansion.”
“And we’re going to make sure it stands for something because at the ACLU we care a little bit about something called the Utah constitution,” Stevenson said.
Article VI, section 1 of the Utah constitution says “and the people of Utah” immediately after it says “the legislative power of the state shall be vested in the legislature.”
“’The people of the state of Utah’ — it’s there,” Stevenson said. “It’s co-equal next to (‘legislature’). … It’s there; it’s the same font size.”
“In November 2018, the voters decided,” Stevenson added. “Utah decided through Prop. 3 and we’re here to defend that. We are that people of the state of Utah and we have that power.”
Loud cheers followed that rivaled those resulting from Ormsby’s comment about bringing tax dollars already paid back to Utah.
Later, an impromptu “Yes on 3!” was chanted at least six or seven times, followed by Ormsby saying “I feel like 580,000 Utahns cannot be wrong. Respect the voters.”
Davis-Stanford, the Utah Health Policy Project health policy analyst, said that she lost her job and health insurance after getting in a car accident. She found herself owing a quarter-million dollars just in emergency treatment. She then found UHHP folks and “got involved with so many of the groups,” which preceded her working full-time for the UHHP.
“Advocating for this issue is now my full-time job, but it has been my life for a lot of years,” Davis-Stanford said.
Attendees cheered when Davis-Stanford asked who attended events and told their friends about expansion and voted for the law.
“Voters came out in record numbers last year,” she said.
“Prop. 3 is a better option than anything that’s on the table and anything that’s discussed,” she later said. “And you know what? We made it easier on the legislature. We paid for it for at least two years. We made the decision to fully expand it without having to rely on waivers … all they have to do is let it happen.”
She then asked the crowd to say “No cuts, no caps, no repeal!”, which they did twice before she ended her speech.
At the rally, attendees were asked to call their senators at (801) 538–1035 and House representatives at (801) 538–1029.
“Who is your legislator in the Senate? Who is your legislator in the House? Right there in the subject line of your email, (write) ‘I am your constituent,’” Ormsby asked. “Let them know you vote; let them know you are watching this issue.”
“If a legislator hears from one constituent, it’s significant,” Ormsby added. “If they hear from 5, 10, 20 constituents, it’s a movement.”
“The grease is on the skids,” Ormsby then said. “There are legislators who are saying ‘we are ready to go’ … they are … en masse … and they are going to reject the will of 580,000 voters.”
A chant of “No repeal!” followed.
Gibbs said that when he called to schedule the event, he was told that if the folks in attendance got “too loud and too disruptive,” they could be asked to leave.
“Which confused me because five years of (advocacy) on this issue made me wonder if they could hear us,” Gibbs joked. “But they hear you today.”