March 27, 2017

A Letter to Arkansas Constituents Regarding HB 1249

Dear Arkansas,

Governor Asa Hutchinson signed HB 1249 
into law . It allows for anyone with a concealed carry license ("CCL") who undergoes additional (minimal) training, to be allowed to bring a gun to a college campus, a church, most state grounds, and even bars. To watch the announcement follow this link.

There are exceptions to where someone can carry a gun. Someone can't bring a gun into a courtroom and if a bar or restaurant posts a physical sign prohibiting guns then they will not be allowed (a verbal decry will not be legally binding).
Legally savvy individuals will also note there are provisions of the law that permits someone to bring a gun to college sporting event (such as Razorback games) and into college dormitories. Furthermore if some private properties, such as a church, oppose the carrying of gun on their grounds, but lapses in posting a sign, the default is that people can bring a gun onto their private property. 

By and large, putting more guns into the hands of civilians only leads to more gun violence. There are numerous reports from the FBIThe United Nations (abridged version by The Guardian), the CDCHarvardJohns HopkinsStanford, and various news outlets such as Mother JonesThe Washington PostThe New York Times and The Guardian but this video below from Vox draws together a lot of studies and statistics in a brief 7 minute video to outline most of the problems our country faces with guns. 
Governor Hutchinson, Arkansas Rep. Collins and Sen. Garner are well-established cronies for the NRA. It isn't even a secret as the Governor paraded around NRA representative Chris Cox and even allowed him to speak at the Governor's press conference after the signing of HB 1249. 

I find it most disappointing that the wishes of police were less significant in this legislation's formulation than that of the NRA. A representative of our state police was only present at the press conference because they are required under HB 1249 to design and implement training requirements, not because they supported the bill. Several members of our law enforcement community spoke against the bill. To read more follow these links: (1) and (2)

Typically, police favor more sensible gun restrictions as they are the individuals who must deal with the threat of armed persons; permitting more citizens to carry weapons complicates an already difficult job. To read more follow these links: (1) and (2).

While the NRA might seem like a legitimate organization with people's best interests in mind, they have actually morphed (over the years) to being a resource for gun manufacturers to further inundate the country with more guns. It's not even a secret that Chris Cox and his organization want more people with more guns in more places across the nation. There are several organizations that have reported on the NRA's true intentions (President Bush Senior even quit the NRA over its outrageous tactics). 

This is a more lighthearted report:

Brief report:

Traditional print article:

Traditional news report:

There is a specific agenda that the NRA is trying to enact throughout the country as detailed in this NPR link.

The NRA is trying to end "gun-free" zones as we are seeing with HB 1249 in our state. 

The NRA has coerced federal congressmen into proposing a 'concealed carry reciprocity' bill which would mandate one state's CCL to be lawful in another state. 

This would negate the stringent training requirements some states have implemented to receive a CCL as an individual could merely travel to another state (like AR) with minuscule requirements to obtain a CCL before traveling back to their home state where their new CCL would be legally recognized. This is an early step in an incremental process towards pushing the country to the possibility of being an open-carry nation.  

Furthermore, the NRA is working towards silencers/suppressors being more easy to obtain. To read more follow these links: (1) and (2).

If the NRA aims to combat mass shootings as they claim when making the case for expanding concealed carry, then wouldn't it be counterproductive to then allow for individuals to obtain a device that eliminates early detection of an active shooter (a loud gunshot)?

In closing, this is one specific example within Arkansas (but is relevant nationally) to indicate that our state's Republican party is not beholden to the voters, but rather, special interests. Many citizens favor gun regulations that experts agree would improve our safety. Yet, in spite of data and facts establishing the harm this law will bring to our state, it will be enacted. The Republican party will not push for an agenda to better serve Arkansans but one to better serve organizations and business interests. 

Stop putting these people in positions of authority. 

Vote smart.

Vote often

The citizen who criticizes his country is paying it an implied tribute
- J. William Fulbright 

March 20, 2017

The GOP Health Care Plan Helps my Family: Here's why that's a problem

I am a lawyer. My husband is a scientist. Our daughter is well, an awesome 17 month old. We are homeowners with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. I have student debt, but we manage it. We should repay my student debt ahead of schedule and pay off our mortgage well in advance of our 30-year deadline (Thanks, in part, to the snowball method and

I do in-house corporate work that pays well, helps with my retirement, and helps provide health insurance for our entire family.

As we are all (relatively) young and healthy, we recently made the voluntary switch to an HSA plan. Under our HSA plan, my employer contributes roughly $110.00 each month for my family and pays the other premium amounts in full. Each month, I contribute an additional $450.00(ish) to our HSA in order to max out the current family allowable contribution of $6,750.00. Each year, we have a family deductible (in-network) of $4,000. Once we hit this amount, all other services are covered, in full, by our insurance provider without anything else out of pocket. So essentially, the amount of money in my family's HSA each year is more than enough to cover our maximum deductible without us having to dig further into our pockets. A quick side note about HSA's -- money contributed to an HSA reduces your overall taxable income. So essentially, by being able to contribute the maximum amount to our HSA, we can essentially "lower" our overall income and owe fewer taxes.

In addition to this fairly nice setup, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as the ACA or Obamacare) our wellness exams and routine childhood screenings (hello vaccinations!) do not cost anything out of pocket. Also thanks to the ACA, I know that regardless of my policy, all maternity care and birth control is included automatically -- which is a nice assurance should we choose to one day give Holland a sibling or chose to prevent that from happening.

So basically my family is very blessed. We make enough money to cover our healthcare costs, pay our bills, pay down our debt, save for retirement, donate to our favorite charities on a monthly basis, and still occasionally spoil ourselves with new running shoes, various household projects, or date nights.  We are not living paycheck to paycheck and if something terrible happened, we have enough savings readily available to continue our standard of living for months if necessary. In other words, our family doesn't need anymore help in this arena. But so many more families make less money, have less than stellar insurance plans, and ARE living month to month.

Those families need to be helped by any insurance reform. Not my family. And yet... the proposed American Health Care Act ("AHCA") doesn't help them. It hurts them.

Under the AHCA:
  • HSA Contribution Amount: The HSA Contribution limit for my family would rise from $6,750 to $13,100. This means that we could further reduce our overall taxable income by an additional $6,350. That's a lot of money, especially when you consider that as our incomes continue to grow, it could essentially change our tax bracket. However, this deduction will not benefit people who either cannot afford to deduct $13,100 out of their earnings, pre-tax, each year or help people who are not well served by HSAs. HSAs can only be used in conjunction with high-deductible plans (not co-pay plans) and thus, require the insured to have cash up front to pay for medical expenses unless or until the high deductible is reached. My family's high deductible of $4,000 is really not high. A lot of these plans average deductibles of nearly $3,000 per person and thus closer to $9,000 for a family of three. This is a lot of money for the average American family, especially those who cannot afford to take maximum HSA witholdings. There are other drawbacks that make HSA/high deductible plans impossible for a lot of families (no prescription drug co-pay coverage for instance), so while this part of the GOP plan would technically benefit my family, we are likely the exception and not the rule. 
  • Medicaid Expansion: The ACA Medicaid expansion, enacted by 31 states and D.C., has allowed millions of uninsured Americans to gain coverage. Prior to the ACA, Medicaid was only available to certain qualified low-income families, pregnant women, children, and the disabled. Under the ACA, you could qualify for Medicaid coverage if you made up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Under the ACHA, people would no longer be able to enroll in the expansion after 2020 and anyone who was included in the expansion who let their coverage lapse (say, because of a job loss or other financial crisis such as a divorce) would be prevented from re-enrolling in the future. These persons would therefore be thrown back into the marketplace to find coverage and would only have the smaller tax credits (above) to help and would still have to face the new penalties (below).
  • Penalties for No Coverage: Under the ACA there is a mandate that requires everyone to buy insurance. This exist because costs go down when the pool is bigger. In other words, if healthy people who aren't using benefits are also paying into the system, then the costs for everyone are lowered. (The mandate also helps pay for other portions of ACA such as no lifetime insurance caps, required coverage on parent plans until 26, no ban for previous conditions, etc.) While there are exemptions from the tax penalty mandate under the ACA, the fee itself is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child (or $2,085 for a family). Under the AHCA, this fee is removed and coverage is no longer mandated. However, if your coverage lapses for any reason for 63 days or longer, then you will have to pay your new insurer a penalty of 30% of the premium. Over 30 million working-age adults have reported gaps in insurance coverage that exceed 63 days. While this likely isn't a concern for my family because we have employer provided coverage and would likely be able to afford COBRA until we could find a suitable replacement, this is not the case for millions of Americans. Moreover, the 30% penalty will, for most people, be a much larger expense than the tax penalty of the ACA. Overall, this penalty does not encourage people to return to the marketplace upon suffering a lapse, and according to the CBO (a nonpartisan group), this would, in part, lead to a reduction of coverage for nearly 24 million people. 
All in all, my family doesn't stand to lose too much if the ACA is repealed and the GOP Health Care Plan is passed. If anything, my family will likely see another tax break and may have to deal with maternity care no longer being offered (though this is not likely an option my employer would choose). But we are also well aware that this isn't the case for millions of families in this country who are not fortunate enough to share our situation. Therefore, it is on us (and people like us) to stand up and speak out and demand that any replacement for the ACA provide assistance to those who need it most. Coverage options and prices for the sick, elderly, and disable should be plentiful and affordable

You can help by researching both the ACA and the AHCA and then calling your own U.S. Senators and Representatives and demand that they find a solution that helps the most needy in our society. After all, God has given us this commandment time and time again: Hebrew 13:16, Hebrews 6:10, Galatians 6:2, Deuteronomy 15:11, Proverbs 3:27, Philippians 2:4, Proverbs 22:9, Romans 12:13, Matthew 25:44-45, and Luke 3:10-11.

My family has been blessed. Truly blessed. Now it's our job -- and yours -- to work to ensure that those blessings are spread among all of God's children.