This is the fourth post in our series about what happened in the 2011 Texas Legislature that affects kids and families. The special session ended Wednesday, making it likely that any new laws or budget decisions will have to wait until 2013, when the next legislature next comes into session. In this week’s post, we look at a handful of important things that got put on hold and who’s to blame for it. Also, over on the Mommy Mom page, you can find our new week’s tip to get you motivated. This week’s theme is making life better for moms with a more family-friendly village.
Ever seen a politician looking for a photo-op where they can lay a big kiss on . . . a corporate CEO? No way, they’re looking for babies to pose with, and for good reason. What better way is there to get across the idea that these public servants understand their responsibilities—to the vulnerable, to life’s most important things, to the future—than for them to literally hold what embodies all of that: your or my child?
A lot of elected leaders, even right here in Texas, take their responsibility to kids seriously. And yet, when we look around, it sure doesn’t feel like being entrusted with that big job has brought about a better world for our kids yet.
Perhaps politicians don’t know about us parents. After all, we’re the minority of voters, and we’re pretty stretched thin. Do we have memories as long as, say, that of the paid lobbyist for a big industry or the corporate donor who has a politician’s ear. I think we could. As the Save Texas Schools folks always say, we can show, “We’re watching, and we vote.” We know the difference between a photo op and real action. We know what it means to represent the people, first and foremost.
This legislative session, some good things and some bad things got done for (or to) kids and families. The story that hasn’t been told as much, however, is about the missed opportunities. There were times this session—on both sides of the aisle—when lawmakers took brave positions and worked tirelessly for a really important change. They did it to help even the one group that never votes for them or donates to their campaigns: our kiddos. What bothers me most is the powerful opposition they ran into: the bills that came so close to passage, only to be defeated because of the actions of some unaccountable group.
The special interests don’t get to be the keepers of our public destiny. We do. If I could call out just a few of them, I have some questions to ask:
- To the well-funded, right-wing policy coalition that managed to kill a popular amendment to use surplus Rainy Day Fund savings for our struggling public schools: This is your workforce of tomorrow, too, so just where do you suppose our next wave of innovation and economic growth is supposed to come from?
- To the coal industry interests that killed a bill about advisories at Texas lakes and waterways, to help pregnant women know not to eat mercury-contaminated fish: Was whatever you were fighting for really more important than keeping fetuses safe from toxins?
- To the police lobbyists who fought successfully to prevent school officers from having to get training in how to work with the children, including kids with special needs: Children are not just little adults, so what’s wrong with training your fellow cops to do their jobs better?
- To the hospital lobbyists who fought tooth and nail to prevent a new law that would have improved transparency for hospitals regarding which ones deliver babies early for no good medical reason, leading more newborns needlessly into the NICU: If there was nothing to hide, why not welcome a little sunshine, so more babies can get a good start?
- To the health insurance companies that fought requirements to have them offer the same coverage for children on their private plans as what kids on public insurance programs already get: If you really believed government can’t do health care better than you, why not prove it by offering the same benefits?
The issue of large and powerful interests hit close to home this week for LiveMom, when a group of online activists accused this blog of “shilling” for McDonald’s at an event the fast-food eatery sponsored regarding its newer, healthier choices. I wasn’t there, but I have a couple of thoughts. Let’s set aside the fact that, although LiveMom does run ads (including from McDonald’s) to keep the site going, Catherine, who runs this blog and made the call, works for free. We’ll also set aside that we’ve posted repeatedly about issues like the need to curb childhood obesity by putting limits on junk-food marketing to children, including in a post just a month ago. The event in question gave LiveMom a chance to ask McDonald’s some important questions. Still, the bloggers reflected on the controversy. The writer who went did so knowing the restaurant’s not for everyone but that a lot of families do go; a lot have few restaurant choices other than fast food in their neighborhood; and those who are there might want to know about the better menu options for their kids. Was that reason enough?
Maybe there’s one more. All over LiveMom are articles, recipes, Mommy Mob campaigns, and interviews that demonstrate support for healthy, balanced kids and families. Some people believe that the only way to bring about healthy kids is to try from the outside to take down every big and powerful special interest. If that works for them, great, but, for many, it can feel like an unrealistically big job. Maybe there is value, too, in working every available angle, including acknowledging those in power can and should see the light—that when it comes right down to it, what happens for kids involves all of us.
P.S. If you are wondering why I didn’t list the soda industry above, it’s because, unlike the other bills mentioned, the soda tax proposal didn’t come very close to passage (at least not this year). To find out what happened for hundreds of bills affecting kids and families, check out the new legislative recap report from Texans Care for Children.
Written by: Christine Sinatra