The Essex community has the unfortunate recognition of having experienced a school shooting. 1 teacher was killed and 1 injured. Last year we experienced a lock-down. It wasn’t a drill. My husband works in the community and he said the sounds from all the sirens were deafening. Teens texted their parents goodbye. I was here that day unable to fully grasp what was happening in my community. Knowing the situation was at the high school, I couldn’t begin to imagine what those parents, teachers and students were going through. For a brief time all schools were locked down. What I did imagine was my sweet 8 year old boy, along with 19 other children, in a room with one teacher, unsure why the doors are locked and shades drawn. When I asked my son what happened he said “a man in our community was having a bad day so we had to stay inside and be quiet until someone helped him”. Thank goodness for our teachers. I was honored to be at our high school walk out last week. I saw the look in the eyes of our teens, I heard their voices – they should not be afraid.
The Essex community had a murder-suicide, an adult and teenager, by gun. Our community lost a youth to suicide, by gun. And those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.
Our conversation and action on gun safety legislation shouldn’t be just about the mass shootings. One live lost is one too many.
I support common sense gun laws, just as I support common sense driving laws. Will these laws stop all violence and death, no. But if they stop some, they are worth it.
I support extreme risk measures, expanded background checks, changing the age to 21 to purchase guns with the carve outs, I support a ban on bump stocks and high capacity magazines, and I support a waiting period and safe storage.
I also know this committee will d0 their due diligence. What will come forth will be laws we can enforce and laws that don’t impinge on the true intent of the 2nd amendment. I thank you for what your doing.
We as a legislative body also need to look at the whole picture, not just gun safety legislation. What are the root causes of this violence, what supports and services do we need in our communities and in our families, what security measures do we need at our schools that don’t infringe on the freedom of our children. What else do we need to stop another senseless death.
Last night at a community conversation a gentleman indicated he was okay with kids and schools having to do drills – he did it growing up during the Cold War. I appreciate his perspective but I don’t agree with him. We as citizens really couldn’t control a nuclear threat. We as citizens should be able to control a threat of our own making.
This week the House Healthcare committee voted out to important bills on prescription drugs that if implemented will ultimately lower some prescription drug prices and heard testimony on the recently announced plan by the UVMMC network to expand mental health care.
S.175, An act relating to the wholesale importation of prescription drugs into Vermont, shall have the Agency of Human Services, in consultation with interested stakeholders and appropriate federal officials to design a wholesale prescription drug importation program, including requirements of safety and cost. The program would designate a state agency to become or contract with a licensed drug wholesaler to import prescription drugs at a significant cost savings to Vermonters. AHS shall submit the proposed design for the program by Jan. 1, 2019. The bill directs the state to seek the appropriate federal waivers and if obtained, the state will begin operating the program within six months of the approval. Our committee took testimony from our federal delegation who are all in full support of our efforts and are willing to help.
S. 92, An act relating to interchangeable biological products, allows VT to substitute biosimilars, a generic type of biological products, which would ultimately reduce the price of these drugs to consumers. A biological product means such things as a virus, therapeutic serum, toxin, antitoxin, vaccine, blood, blood component derivative applicable to the prevention, treatment or cure of a disease or condition in human beings. When a pharmacist receives a prescription for a biological product, the pharmacist shall select the lowest priced interchangeable biological product. A health insurance or benefit plan shall apply the same cost-sharing requirements to interchangeable biological products as apply to generic drugs.
The bill also has a section on Prescription Drug Cost Transparency, which strengthens a 2016 statute. The bill would require the Department of Health Access to identify annually up to 10 prescription drugs on which the state spends significant health care dollars. Commercial insurers shall also create a list annually of prescription drugs on which its insurance plans spend significant amounts of their premium dollars, net of rebates and price concessions. The lists will be given to the state Attorney General’s office, which will require the manufacturer to provide a justification for each drug’s increase. The lists will be posted on the Green Mountain Care Board and AG’s website.
The bill will also gauge the impact of drug costs on health insurance premiums by requiring insurers with more than 1,000 covered lives to report to the Green Mountain Care Board the 25 most frequently prescribed drugs and the average wholesale price for each; the 25 most costly drugs by total plan spending and the average wholesale cost of each; and the 25 drugs with the highest year-over-year price increases and average wholesale price for each.
S.92 also eliminates the so-called “Gag Rule” that prohibits or penalizes a pharmacist for disclosing to a patient the cash price for a prescription drug or selling a lower cost drug to the patient if one is available. The pharmacist would be allowed to provide information to a patient regarding the cost-sharing amount for the drug. Remember when ordering a prescription drug you may ask your pharmacists if there is a lower price available for the drug.
The Health Care Committee joined the Institutions and Corrections committee to listen to an early proposal by UVMMC to add secure residential beds for mental illness at the Central Vermont Hospital, which is part of UVMMC network. The proposal would allow additional inpatient beds that would help address the problem with patients being held for long times in hospital emergency departments around the state. This proposal would also free the beds at the VT Psychiatric Hospital that would be used to as a secure residential facility, thereby eliminating the problem of relocating or adding beds in Middlesex. This proposal is in it’s infancy and will take 3-4 years to implement so will not address our immediate problems. However, it is an exciting opportunity when looking long term and with our state’s desire to bring parity to mental health and health care in that it locates the beds for mental health in a hospital setting.
S175 and S92 will be on the House floor this week for a vote. Should they pass both would go back to the Senate.
Any questions on these bills or anything else, please reach out.
Over the last few weeks the focus has been on gun violence prevention legislation. However, in conversations many ask “what else are we doing about school safety and about mental health”.
School Safety - The House unanimously approved H923. This annual bill appropriates funds to infrastructure improvement projects across the state. This year the bill provides $4m for School Safety and Security Grants with an additional $1m in federal funds. Schools may apply for grants to implement safety measures such as intercom systems, window coverings, door looks, etc. The Governor convened a group to perform security assessments of all schools. Once that report is delivered and the Capital Budget is signed into law, schools will be able to apply for a grant.
Mental Health - The general fund budget passed by the House allocated funds to provide community outreach counselors to assist people seeking emergency services in communities (including Essex); provide additional funds to make the Pathways peer warm line available 24/7; and provide funding for additional housing and associated supported services in the Rutland County area. All programs have shown a significant ability to divert people from emergency services to provide the right care within the community. The Capital Budget invests in additional beds for those needing a therapeutic setting but don’t require a hospital level of care. These actions will have the combined effects of keeping individuals out of the ERs and improve the flow of patients between different types of facilities due to more available beds. These investments continue our commitment to increase resources to provide the right care at the right time for all those suffering a mental health illness.
I want to be clear though, I firmly believe gun violence and mental health are two distinct issues. Less than 4% of gun violence is connected to a mental health illness. There is a difference between someone suffering an illness such as bi-polar, schizophrenia, or severe and persistent depression and someone who is socially isolated, angry or resentful and chooses to act out with violence. As a society, we need to appropriately discuss, provide resources and craft effective policy for each population – as the needs and resources for one are most likely not the same in the other.
Recently Representative Giambatista, Dunn and I held a discussion on early childhood trauma and the long lasting effects toxic stress (i.e. poverty, abuse or neglect, exposure to violence, parental substance abuse) can have on an individual. EWSD held a school safety community conversation. I hope these types of conversations continue. We need to continue learning together.
Please feel free to reach out firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lorihoughton.com. Thank you for the opportunity to serve Essex Junction.