Capitol Ideas July/August 2016

West Virginia state Sen. Ron Stollings, or Dr. Stollings to his patients, used his experience as a physician to inform his policy decisions while serving as the chair of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee for four years. “I have boots on the ground,” said Stollings. “I see up to 20 patients a day and I see what all is troubling them and what issues they are having and frequently I can take those issues to the statehouse and try to implement changes that might positively impact people.” Stollings said only about 20 percent of health outcomes are attributable to the traditional medical care system, so he focused on public health issues such as obesity, vaccinations and tobacco use during his time as the Health Committee chair.

By Crit Luallen
It would be no surprise if a young person whose perception of public service has been formed through the lens of cable news and its 30-second sound bites was forever dissuaded from choosing a career in the public arena. So much of what we see today involves the negative attacks and divisive rhetoric that have fueled increased polarization in this nation. But an innovative program in Lexington, Kentucky, offers an opportunity for a select group of future leaders to see public leadership in a far different and much more positive way. The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship is a nonprofit dedicated to educating a new generation of leaders in the essential skills of diplomacy, negotiation and conflict resolution. Thanks to a collaborative partnership that includes The Council of State Governments, the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky, and Transylvania University, the Henry Clay Center expanded in 2016 to hold both a high school and college-level Student Congress in the same year for the first time.

By Sallie Clark

Counties are at the forefront of assisting individuals with behavioral health needs, annually investing $83 billion in community health systems, including behavioral health services. Through 750 behavioral health authorities and community providers, county governments plan and operate community-based services for people with mental illnesses and substance abuse conditions. County-based behavioral health services exist in 23 states that collectively represent 75 percent of the U.S. population. Counties also help to finance Medicaid, the largest source of funding for behavioral health services in the U.S., and serve as the local safety net, administering wrap-around human services support.

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ strict regulations on abortion clinics, in the court’s most significant decision on abortion rights in decades. At issue in the case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, is to what extent states can regulate abortion within their borders, and the ruling likely will have ramifications for states across the country that have passed similar legislation restricting abortion in recent years. Lisa Soronen, director of the State and Local Legal Center, describes the case as the “most significant abortion case since Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” the 1992 Supreme Court case that held that state lawmakers could restrict abortion rights as long as they do not provide an “undue burden” to women seeking an abortion. In the Casey decision, the court defined an undue burden as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s fundamental right to choice.”

In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, cities, states and the federal government are taking a closer look at the status of water infrastructure in the United States and its ability to deliver healthy and safe drinking water to residents. A recent USA Today report analyzing data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that over the past four years, close to 2,000 water systems in all 50 states showed excessive levels of lead in water testing results. Some of the highest levels of lead were found at schools and day cares. In order to prevent lead contained in these pipes and fixtures from leaching into drinking water, water system operators are required by the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule to treat the finished water to ensure that when the water leaves a treatment plant it is not corrosive.

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