Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smoke-Free Hearing....Later Today

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Just waiting on the House of Representatives to wrap up so the State Affairs Committee can meet and have a hearing on Smoke-Free Texas. We just wrapped up a great press conference and I can really feel the momentum building. Stay tuned....

5:37 The House wrapped up around 5:15 so the State Affairs Committee should be getting started anytime time. Members are filing in and taking their seats.

5:40 Chairman Solomons calls the committee to order....

5:46 House Author Myra Crownover lays out her bill. HB 5 Smoke-Free Texas. "This is about protecting the workers in the state of Texas..."

5:55 Retired AHA CEO Cass Wheeler is now addressing the committee. "Passing this bill will reduce heart disease and reduce health care costs.

5:59 A restaurant owner from Amarillo is speaking against the bill saying its a personal rights issue, not a health issue.

State Rep Lucio counters by saying when people smoke indoors, they are imposing their choice on others.

6:06 Austin restaurant owner Bick Brown testifies in favor or smoke-free Texas. He made the decision to go smoke-free on his own, and called it one of the best business decision he's made. It has been beneficial for his customers and employees.

6:11 A bartender and college student from College Stations says she only had limited job options and bartending was one of them. College Station was not smoke-free when she began but now, wouldn't have it any other way. "Smoke-free laws don't hinder rights, they enable them. I now have the right to work in a healthy environment"

6:19 Former El Paso City Councilmember talks about when he helped pass the ordinance in El Paso. He said at first he was not supportive, then he studied the issue. He looked at the data on secondhand smoke and the data on bar and restaurant revenue. "I wanted to be on the right side of the issue even if I wasn't on the winning side, and that's why I supported it"

6:36 Flower Mound Mayor testifies in favor of smoke-free Texas talking about passing her ordinance. "We want to keep big government out of Flower Mound, but this is a smart law that is good for public health"

6:56 Former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd is now testifing for smoke-free air. He was Mayor when Austin passed its first ordinance, just covering restaurants. He said most business owners opposed it at first, now they love it. Later the Austin citizens, not the city goverment, approved an even stronger ordinance covering bars and other workplaces.

7:07 They are going back and forth allowing one person to speak in favor of the bill, then one person against it.

7:10 Dr. Phil Huang is now testifying for the bill. He is now the Travis County Medical Director but was the former Preventive Medicine Specialist at Texas Department Of Health.

Even limited exposure to secondhand has an adverse effect on the cardiovascular system.

7:27 We are mostly hearing from the opposition now. Tobacco shop owners and cigar bar owners.

7:48 Testimony continues and the arguments the same. Basically it boils down to this: We believe all workers deserve smoke-free. Opponents believe the rights of smokers, to smoke in indoor workplaces, outweighs all other rights.

7:52 I personally think that the committee is getting tired of hearing from the tobacco industry on this issue. Especially considering the long history of Big Tobacco to lie and mislead consumers, the general public and Congress on the health impact of their product.

8:06 Testimony on Smoke-Free Texas has concluded. House Author Myra Crownover is now providing closing remarks on her bill.

8:16 Smoke-Free bill has been left pending. Now we have two identical bills in a House Committee and a Senate Committee that need to be voted on. Go to www.SmokeFreeTexasNOW.org to tell your lawmakers to support Smoke-Free Texas.

Smoke-Free Texas Press Conference

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3:00 pm A press conference to release the results of our online petition is about to begin. The AHA and Smoke-Free Texas coalition collected almost 10,000 signatures in just two days in support of smoke-free air.

Native Texan and Former AHA CEO Cass Wheeler (pictured above) will emcee the press conference.

3:10 Cass opens the press conference. "We set an ambitious goal of 5,000 signatures, but underestimated the widespread support for smoke-free air and nearly doubled our goal with close to 10,000 signatures..."

3:15 Cass introduces Senate author Rodney Ellis. "In a year or two after we pass this bill we will be asking ourselves what were we smoking for this to take so long"

3:26 Hyde Park Bar and Grill owner Bick Brown is now speaking. His establishment went smoke-free before he was required to. Said his decision was made when a long time employee came to him and said, "I shouldn't have to risk my health to work for you".

3:28 Flower Mound Mayor talks about passing a strong smoke-free ordinance a few months ago. "After four months I'm getting calls from restaurant owners who opposed the ordinance saying 'Thank You' for passing this ordinance."

3:32 Cass is back at the podium.

"This is not about Republicans, it is not about Democrats, and its not about politics. This is about public health and saving lives. Let's get these bills out of the political process and into the public health process and let's save those lives."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

You're the Cure on the Hill 2009

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This was my 4th year to attend as a staff member for the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure on the Hill National Lobby Day in Washington, D.C. It has always been an enjoyable experience, but this year was probably the most memorable yet. For a number of reasons, I felt the advocates from Texas really had a meaningful impact on furthering our policy initiatives. We had a group of around nine advocates and staff that touched all 34 offices in the Texas delegation including 32 Congressional offices and two Senate offices. Some of our volunteers included Dr. Clyde Yancy, incoming President of the AHA, Dr. Amit Khera, M.D., preventative cardiologist, UT Southwestern, and Connie Kerr, seasoned advocate from Arlington, Texas. We had over 15 meetings with congressional members and staff and really got our core “messages” out.



Our messages included increasing NIH funding for research and education, CDC funding for prevention including a $74 million ask for our Heart and Stroke Prevention program, a $37 million ask for our Heart for Women Act and a formal request to sign a letter to the President requesting the same. We also had a general request for health care reform by providing more accessible, affordable and higher quality care than is currently being provided in this country.

In addition to the wonderful visits we had on Capitol Hill, Dr. Khera and I had the privilege of being invited to present at a breakout session on Monday afternoon and spoke about how the American Heart Association’s national policy priorities are used to create statewide legislative priorities, agendas and implementation. I gave the staff’s perspective and Dr. Khera gave the volunteer’s perspective.

I found this Lobby Day to be the most rewarding yet and it reminded me why the AHA’s mission of fighting cardiovascular disease and stroke is so important.

Douglas Dunsavage
Government Relations Director, AHA
Texas

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smoke-Free Hearing....Now!

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4:12 Dr. Phil Huang is now testifying on behalf of Smoke-Free Texas. He is speaking to the improvement of air quality seen in communities seen after smoke-free laws have been passed.

See the twitter updates on the right for updates on previous speakers.

4:20 Dallas County Medical Director John Carlo is up next. "Smoke-Free communities see an immediate and dramatic reduction in hospitalizations from heart attacks..."

4:24 Jeff Knisely is now speaking. Not only is he the Government Relations Director for the American Lung Associations but also a musician and performer. He is speaking to the burden put on live music performers forced to perform in smoke filled venues.

4:33 Comments from proponents of the SB 544 have concluded we are now hearing from the opposition.

4:35 I currently only see three of the nine senators that are on the committee. Eliot Shapleigh from El Paso, Joan Huffman from Houston and Robert Nichols from Jacksonville all appear present.

4:38 Chair Jane Nelson (Flower Mound) is now here. Thanks everyone for their testimony.

4:47 So far most of the opponents have been owners of tobaccos shops and cigar bars.

4:50 Senator Royce West, Dallas, is now present. Currently 5 of the 9 committee members are present.

5:00 Senator Carlos Uresti, San Antonio is now here.

5:15 Mostly business owners are testifying, fearful of losing business. It is important to note that all objective studies on smoke-free laws show no adverse economic impact to in cities and states where similar laws have been passed.

Only 19% of Texans are smokers so any potential loss of business could easily be made up by a larger percentage of the populace being more likely to visit your establishment.

5:25 Another argument against smoke-free workplaces, is the business rights angle. "the government shouldn't tell people how to run their businesses..." Opponents fail to mention the numerous safeguards that government puts on business to safeguard consumers. Things from food temperature to cleanliness of the restaurant are routinely regulated. And most people think those regulations are pretty good ideas.

5:40 Opponents continue to testify against SB 544. Most argue that it infringes on personal rights. They fail to point out we simply ask people to go outside when they smoke. Under current language in the bill smokers will be allowed to re-enter the establishment after they go outside.

5:45 Great testimony from a Tyler City Council member who talked about his experience about passing a comprehensive ordinance in Tyler last year. "We were open minded going into the process, but cam to the conclusion that it was primarily a health issue..."

6:04 Oral testimony has concluded. Nelson is reading those who submitted written testimony.

6: 07 Public testimony is over. The bill has been left pending, which means they will vote on it at a later date. The next time the Health and Human Services committee will meet is Thursday, so hopefully it will be passed then!

Visit http://www.smokefreetexasnow.org/ to tell your lawmakers to vote Yes on SB 544. Thanks!

Smoke-Free Hearing...Today!

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9:05 The Smoke-Free Texas bill will be heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee today, we just don't know exactly when. You can check back here throughout the day or watch live feeds from the capitol here: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.php

The Committee is scheduled to meet at 9 so they should be begining any time now.

9:07 Committee Chair Jane Nelson brings committee to order. She mentions the Smoke-Free bill in her opening remarks saying that it likely won't be heard until after the full Senate adjourns this afternoon.

So the committee will meet from 9 am-11am then the full Senate will meet. We don't know exactly when it will be heard, but it will undoubtably be this afternoon, possibly around 4pm.

12:15 The Senate has been in session for a little over an hour. The Health and Human Services committee will return 30 minutes after the Senate adjourns.

12:42 The Senate has adjourned and the Health and Human Services committee will resume at 1:30 pm.

1:34 The Health and Human Services Committee has returned. Our Smoke-Free Bill will be the 10th item on the agenda.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Smoke-Free Hearing Set for Tuesday

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A hearing has been set for the Smoke-Free Texas bill that will eliminate smoking from all workplaces. This is the first major step on the road towards smoke-free air. The hearing will be next Tuesday, April 14 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Once it is passed (cross your fingers) it will go to the full senate for a vote. Click here to tell your Senator to support Smoke-Free Texas!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Delay Tactics Fail in Dallas

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Public Health Trumps Big Tobacco!

Efforts to delay the Dallas smoke-free ordinance from going into effect failed today at City Hall. While the new ordinance was scheduled to go into effect April 10, opponents wanted to push back the start date. But the council voted against the delay and now on Friday all Dallas workplaces will be non smoking including all restaurants and bars.

"Smoke-Free air cannot wait any longer" said Dr. Amit Khera, Dallas resident and Co-Chair of AHA's State Advocacy Committee. "Secondhand smoke is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease and now all Dallas workers and residents will get the smoke-free air they deserve."

We thank all of the You're the Cure advocates who took action on this issue and told Dallas officials that Smoke-Free air couldn't wait. If you want to help make Texas smoke-free please visit http://www.smokefreetexasnow.org/ and take action today! All Texans should have the right to smoke-free air that is currently enjoyed by close to 30 Texas cities and 25 U.S. States.

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