Friday, April 11, 2008

Amazing things happening with our Lobbyist Group!

I have so much to share today! Yesterday was the committee meeting of the lobbyist group on which I serve for the AHA, and we have so much work ahead of us for the 2009 season. Of course, our next official legislative season does not begin until January of 2009, but we begin NOW to plan, write and find sponsors for bills that are going to be argued in that upcoming session. There are going to be many carry-over issues from last session. There are huge life saving/changing issues that require further support and action, as well as new issues that we are going to wrestle.

First, last session we were successful in the passage of The AED Act, which mandated that all public schools in Arkansas have Automatic Electronic Defibrillators…pending funding. While it was a great success to have the bill fly through both houses like it did, not having the funding piece included basically made it ineffective. We basically had an unfunded mandate, and those have little value. That left it up to organizations like mine, Taking Wellness to Heart, to find funding for these devices. While we placed several last year we certainly do not have the capability to place one in every public school in the state. Sadly, in the 2007 school year we lost a Little Rock school student to cardiac arrest. Had there been an AED present his life might not have been forfeit. In reaction to all of the above we are writing an addendum to the AED Act, which will provide one million dollars in state funding to provide these life saving devices statewide. Rep. Sandra Prater, who sponsored the AED Act for us, has agreed to sponsor the addendum. We have every indication that this addendum will also fly through both Houses. We are also working on a set of “considerations” for the schools to use when purchasing their AED, and the protocol to put in place for their use. We want to make sure that the public schools are buying FDA tested and approved devices, and have someone on staff trained in the proper usage of the device.

Second, we are working diligently on increasing the excise tax on tobacco products. I am ashamed to say that Arkansas has an excise tax of only 59 cents. Many states in our nation have a tax of 3-4 dollars per pack. Studies show that for every 10% increase in the tax on a packet of cigarettes usage decreases by 10%. This will also increase tax monies available for other state health initiatives. The AHA takes no state funding, and therefore the state cannot tell us what to do with our funds. However, we strongly support our initiative partners receiving “devoted” funds. This would mean that the American Cancer Society and other health organizations would have the potential to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from this tax. Sadly, our new Governor is not a fan of “devoted” funds, so we have an uphill battle before us on this issue.

Third, we are again working on a State-Wide Stroke Trauma System. This would create a system of medical facilities across the state to treat stroke victims in the critical first three hours. It will take approximately 25 million dollars in yearly funding to create the trauma system, and getting both houses to agree on where those funds will come from has created a difficulty. Last session both houses agreed that the system was imperative, and recognized its life saving benefits. Arkansas leads the nation in deaths by stroke. However, each house had its own ideas on how to fund the project on a long term basis. This next session our focus will be on getting the two houses to agree on funding, and begin the lengthy process of setting up this life saving system.

Most exciting of all, we have been asked by the Health Ministry of the UK to help them establish a BMI testing protocol in their various countries. Arkansas passed Act 1220 in 2003, and set the benchmark for the US for this life changing program. We now have five years worth of experience with this very sensitive issue, and the UK wants to see how we have put the program in place, how we have handled the dissemination of the information, and how we have handled the back lash from teachers and parents. We will be meeting with them this month, and traveling to them during the next calendar year. Who would have EVER thought a piece of legislation that I worked on would be of interest on an International level, and who would believe that the tiny state of Arkansas would be an example to the world??? I am overwhelmed!

April the 16th I’ll be speaking to more than 1000 heart disease survivors at the Arkansas Red Cap Rally, and April 26th we’ll be celebrating the Central Arkansas Heart Walk. May the 31st is CPR Across Arkansas, where we hope to train 1000 people on CPR administration.

SO many exciting things going on-stay posted!!