Democrat Ellee Spawn is running for District 12 House. The first-time candidate took time Friday after Democratic Forum in Sioux Falls to tell me about teacher pay, health care, the minimum wage, and other issues that have propelled her into the public arena.

Ellee Spawn, Democrat for District 12 House, 2014.08.22

Ellee Spawn, Democrat for District 12 House, 2014.08.22

Spawn puts teacher pay at the top of her agenda. She says last place in salaries is unacceptable if we're serious about retaining the best and brightest teachers. Her own daughter can testify to this economic fact. Spawn's daughter studied elementary education at SDSU. She wants very much to stay and teach in South Dakota, but she has a five-year-old son and a student loan to pay off. South Dakota's teacher pay won't cut it, so she and her fiancé from Watertown are moving to Minneapolis.

Spawn sees a certain cognitive dissonance in South Dakota's inability to recognize the harm we do to ourselves with our low teacher pay. People don't like to face hard truths, says Spawn, but we have to deal with them.

Of course, we also have to find the money to deal with hard truths. Spawn doesn't jump to new taxes. Instead, she says a statewide effort to boost teacher pay should start with our budget surplus. next, says Spawn, we should stop giving out Benda bonuses. (Hmmm... put Ellee and Charlie Hoffman together, and we just might move the needle on teacher pay!)

Spawn currently manages the Sioux Falls office of M4 Roofing. She has worked in management and sales, served as a virtual assistant, and run her own restaurant. Spawn says her self-employment experience instilled in her a sense of self-accountability and a commitment to getting the job done.

Running a restaurant also shaped Spawn's view on the minimum wage. Spawn says she paid her servers $8 an hour, plus tips. Her kitchen staff got $11 to $12 an hour, and that was nine years ago. Spawn says paying more than other restaurants never hurt her business; it helped her draw and keep experienced and happy workers. It's a bad business practice to pay workers too little. Pay a living wage, says Spawn, and your employees feel less stress, pay more attention to customers, and steal less. Spawn recognizes that South Dakota's minimum-wage initiative, to raise our base wage to $8.50 an hour, is still somewhat shy of a living wage, but she supports it as step in the right direction.

Spawn shows further support for low-income workers with her support for Medicaid expansion. Governor Dennis Daugaard is leaving 48,000 South Dakotans (49,000, said this January 2013 study) without coverage because he'd rather dig in his heels on a specious objection to federal money, which, Spawn points out, already subsidizes 39.6% (yes, she had that number in her head) of the Governor's state budget. The Governor's refusal is "a slap in the face to hard-working South Dakotans."

Spawn says she jumped into the District 12 House race last winter because she was mad. She was sick of her District 12 Reps. Hal Wick and Manny Steele helping the state GOP embarrass South Dakota with their impractical and fringe-nibbling proposals to require everyone to carry a gun, get fluoride out of our water, hold a Constitutional convention, and promote anti-gay discrimination. A friend asked her, "Why don't you run?" Spawn replied, "Why don't I?"

And a candidacy was born. Rep. Steele was term-limited out, and Rep. Wick chose not to run for reëlection, so District 12 is already headed in the right direction. But Spawn wants to make sure her district gets some sensible, unembarrassing leadership. She and fellow Democrat Susan Randall are running against GOP challengers Arch Beal and Alex Jensen.

Spawn is assembling a noteworthy team for her legislative campaign. She just hired John Gossom as her campaign manager and Nebula Group USA as her strategy team. Nebula Group USA is also working for District 33 House candidate Robin Page. Nebula Group USA is run by Bajun Mavalwalla, who like Gossom was involved in the early stages of Corinna Robinson's Congressional campaign.

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Corinna Robinson is working to reverse that downward Q2 fundraising trend. The Democratic candidate for House is speaking at a fundraiser tomorrow (Friday) evening at the Rapid City home of Dr. Nancy Babbitt and Steve Babbitt. Team Robinson staffer Valerie Parker tells me all interested parties are invited. The campaign tweets the where and when:

  • When: Friday, July 25, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
  • Where: 1121 Settlers Creek Place, Rapid City, SD 57701

Dr. Babbitt and Team Robinson would like a heads-up on how many people are coming, so please RSVP to campaign staffer Adam Schantz at aschantz@corinnaforsd.com.

offers this statement from Dr. Babbitt explaining her support for Robinson:

“I’ve become a big believer in who represents us in Washington has a major impact on how physicians get to deliver healthcare," Dr. Babbitt said. "And as someone who is frequently called upon to give input on healthcare reform issues, healthcare legislation, and questions of how we provide quality, affordable healthcare for South Dakota seniors, children, veterans etc., I've found Corinna Robinson to be an open- minded, common-sense voice on this issue. We're excited about the event and we're honored to host it" [Robinson campaign, press release, 2014.07.23].

Dr. Babbitt has publicly challenged Senate candidate Mike Rounds's false scare tactics and Governor Dennis Daugaard's detachment from reality on the Affordable Care Act. Now let's see if she can help Robinson set Kristi Noem's bad record on health care reform straight.

 

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Julie Rovner follows up on a report she did for NPR in 2012 noting that Hobby Lobby and other corporations who want to deny women coverage for birth control are still discriminating on the basis of sex and pregnancy under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as determined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2000. Furthermore, 28 states require insurers to cover FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices; 20 of those states offer religious exemptions, just as the Affordable Care Act did before yesterday's Hobby Lobby ruling, but few if any go as far as saying private corporations can hold religious beliefs and get out of covering contraception.

South Dakota has no such independent contraceptive requirement for insurance policies. Rep. Joni Cutler tried to create one with House Bill 1156 in 2010, but the bill did not pass the House. Senator Ed Olson offered a more general defense of contraception in 2008 with Senate Bill 164:

...It is the public policy of this state that the interest in freedom from unreasonable government intrusions into the private lives of citizens, and specifically the right of consenting individuals to obtain and use safe and effective methods of contraception without interference by governmental entities, shall be safeguarded and that the laws of this state shall be interpreted and construed to recognize and protect these rights [2008 SB 164, Section 2(3)].

Senator Olson's bill also would have clarified that contraception is not governed by South Dakota's abortion statutes, including the statute that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions if they think those prescriptions will be used for abortions... the same false pretext under which Hobby Lobby won its battle in the war on women before the Supreme Court yesterday.

Worth noting: both Olson and Cutler are Republicans. They are no longer in the Legislature, but they demonstrate that when South Dakota Democrats blast the Hobby Lobby ruling and demand that health care decisions be made by women and their doctors, not their bosses, they can find a few allies and win a few votes across the aisle.

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The Supreme Court ruled this morning that corporations can believe in God. I'm looking for the Scripture that says, "Blessed are the corporations...."

The Supreme Court thus ruled that Hobby Lobby and other pious corporations don't have to follow the law that requires employer health insurance policies to include contraception.

Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood wrote in March that contraception isn't a religious issue; it's basic health care:

Since birth control became legal and widely available, women’s health has improved dramatically; the infant death rate has plummeted; and women have been able to invest in their education and careers. Not to mention that increasing access to birth control significantly reduces unintended pregnancy, which in turn reduces the abortion rate [Sarah Stoesz, "Birth Control Is Not a Religious Issue; It Is a Basic Health-Care Issue," MinnPost, 2014.03.25].

Stoesz saw coming this dire precedent: allow corporations to refuse to pay for emergency contraceptives and birth control pills because of their religious objections, and you open the door for corporations who practice Christian Science to refuse to pay for insurance for chemotherapy or antibiotics, for Jehovite corporations to refuse to cover blood transfusions (and maybe even provide legal cover for Jehovites to reassert their opposition to vaccines), and for some fundamentalist corporations to decline to cover any medical treatment other than prayer.

All of this assumes, of course, that a corporation, a legal fiction, a paper construct, can hold religious beliefs, an absurd position, insulting to every religion, that our Supreme Court has now posited as true.

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John Hult exposes a glaring hole in HIPAA, the federal law that protects your medical privacy. The law requires your doctor to keep your medical history under wraps—not talk about your case outside of the office, not plunk your files down in front of reporters at a press conference, etc.

But Hult finds that if you're late on paying your medical bill and the hospital or clinic takes you to court for payment, all privacy bets are off:

Health care providers, health plans and health care clearing houses are barred from releasing confidential medical information, said Paul Stephens of the Privacy Rights Clearing House.

Collection agencies don’t fall under the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA.

“Once you get into the judicial system, it would be up to the law and judge in that jurisdiction to determine what can be done with the information and how it’s handled,” Stephens said [John Hult, "Privacy Risk Rises with Push for Online Medical Records," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.06.21].

Hult says the new electronic filing system adopted by South Dakoa's courts makes it easier for curious parties to access the medical information available in court documents. But First Circuit administrator Kim Allison says we shouldn't worry:

Online records will be easier to access, but a search by name alone won’t give the public access. Those searching records online need a specific case number, which generally would require a $20 background search on either the plaintiff or defendant.

That’s one reason why Allison doubts that individual debtors should worry about their personal information being widely available.

“Realistically, no one is going to look at small claims except the parties,” Allison said [Hult, 2014.06.21].

Ms. Allison misreads public concerns about privacy. We don't protect privacy with assumptions that nobody is going to look. We protect privacy by putting up curtains. Realistically, if the information is out there, someone (private investigators, bloggers, folks with axes to grind) can get it and publish it. HIPAA says our medical information should not be subject to such risk.

Hult notes that South Dakota law already protects some confidential information in court filings, like Social Security numbers and bank account information. It would be an easy and responsible step to add medical information, like the treatments and procedures your doctor has performed for you, to that list of protected information. Legislature, add courtroom medical information protections to your 2015 to-do list.

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Subversion and hooch afoot! Unapologetic liberals are gathering for libations at Wiley's Tavern at 330 North Main in Sioux Falls after work today, 5 p.m., as they reconstitute the Sioux Falls chapter of Drinking Liberally. Among topics that may stir conversation:

The National Partnership for Women and Families finds South Dakota is one of the crappiest places to be a working mom:

NPWF grades for working mom conditions June 2014

Grades by state for legal protections for working mothers, based on state laws on family leave, sick leave, and other family issues. Data from National Partnership for Women and Families; map from Bloomberg Businessweek.

Hmm... probably won't see Governor Daugaard plastering that map on a banner ad for South Dakota in the Minneapolis airport... where NPWF finds much better conditions for working moms.

The Affordable Care Act still hasn't caught the United States up with other countries in terms of quality health care. For the fifth year in a row, the U.S. ranks last in the Commonwealth Fund's scoring of eleven industrialized nations' health care systems.

health-ranking 2013

(Click to embiggen!)

Continuing a long-standing trend (compare the numbers from 2010), the United States continues to spend far more (50% more than extravagant Switzerland, 88% more than colder Canada, 150% more than clammier Great Britain) per capita on health care than any of our industrialized counterparts. Interestingly, many of those countries also drink more alcohol per capita than we do. Hmm... Drinking Liberally Sioux Falls, what can you do about that?

Of course we know poor working-parent policy, inefficient health care, and all of our other problems are caused by irrational, ignorant, unempathetic conservatives... or are they? Discuss, tonight, Willy's Tavern, 5 p.m.!

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The Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion is doing what Tim Johnson, Stan Adelstein, and Joe Lowe have said it would do in states smart enough to adopt it. More people are getting affordable health care, and hospitals are seeing lower rates of uncompensated care, the costs that hospitals forgive uninsured patients and spread out to the rest of us.

  1. In a survey of 465 hospitals in 30 states, the Colorado Hospital Association finds average charity care in Medicaid expansion states has dropped 30% in one year. Average charity care in ACA-embracing Colorado has decreased 36% in urban hospitals and 38% in rural hospitals. In anti-ACA states, charity care has increased 11%.
  2. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe says hospitals in his Medicaid-expanding state saw a 24% drop in uninsured emergency room visits and a 30% drop in uninsured hospital admissions in the first quarter of this year.
  3. Tenet Healthcare finds a 33% decrease in uninsured and charity inpatient admissions and a 24% decrease in uninsured and charity outpatient visits in four Medicaid expansion states. The non-expansion states in its fold saw a 2% increase in uninsured and charity inpatient admissions and a 10% decrease in those cost-risky outpatient visits.

Numbers, numbers, numbers: expand Medicaid, and hospitals are more likely to get payment for treating the sick and injured.

Oh yeah: and it's nice to help more people get well.

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GOP Senate candidate Mike Rounds can't tell the truth about Medicare. He can't even tell a consistent story about his own position on government-run health care.

Consider Rounds's statements about the Veterans Health Administration and the Affordable Care Act in this in-depth report from Northern Plains News. He says both programs are engaged in rationing, because rationing is a big scary word Republicans use to make us think we're in some leaky European lifeboat with Marxists hoarding provisions while Lady Astor swoons at the stern.

But notice that a guy who cries rationing is saying not enough health care is being dished out, at least to people he likes, if not to people in general. Rounds, unlike the conservative he claims to be, appears to believe that there's plenty of health care to go around, and he wants us to pay for it. Consider his statement on veterans' health care:

A lack of doctors and hiding behind bureaucracy to meet arbitrary goals, according to Rounds, are just ways the VA system meters out health care to veterans.

“Health care shouldn’t be rationed,” Rounds said in an interview Monday (June 2, 2014). “They should be allowed to go to another health organization” [Todd Epp, "Rounds Says the Federal Government Is in the Health Care Rationing Business," Northern Plains News, 2014.06.10].

Sending veterans to other health care providers sounds like a good idea to the U.S. House: they unanimously passed a bill to that effect yesterday. HR 4810 would let the VA outsource care for two years to clear the queue. But even reimbursing non-VA facilities at VA, Medicare, or Tricare rates, the VA will spend more money than it does currently. So conservative Mike Rounds is saying he wants more government-funded health care, not less.

Interestingly, Rounds doesn't trust the government to set reimbursement rates high enough to make providing some health services worth private hospitals' while. To pound this fear home, Rounds trots out his wealthy old dad again to scare old folks about the Affordable Care Act:

...Rounds is afraid the Independent Payment Advisory Board would set doctor reimbursements so low for lifesaving procedures for elders like his 86-year-old father Don, who has had a history of heart problems and operations, as to make them unprofitable. Thus, physicians and hospitals won’t offer the services or severely limit the number they perform.

“It’s a way of rationing health care. It’s wrong. It’s not what we want for our dads, our grandmas, for our moms, for our kids,” Rounds said [Epp, 2014.06.10].

Again, Rounds has two logical policy responses. He can advocate higher reimbursement rates, which means spending more tax dollars on health care. If Rounds doesn't want to spend more tax dollars on health care, then deep down he must be o.k. with rationing, just not rationing done by government. In his calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Rounds has yet to enunciate any policy other than free market voodoo, which also rations health care, but ensures that the biggest rations go to rich folks like his dad and his campaign donors.

Rationing is a scare word used to distract us from what Mike Rounds is really thinking. He's a conservative advocating either more government spending on health care or less affordable care for most Americans. Rounds is not offering consistent policy; he's just saying stuff to get votes and hoping we won't notice until he's in power.

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