My Turn: Leave politics of hate off ballot

Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2007

As a health-care worker, I am appalled that people are working so hard to exclude working families from health-care coverage.

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In the midst of this ever-increasing health-care crisis, with the need for universal coverage becoming more universally accepted, exploring ways to pay for care is becoming a calamitous emergency. Even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wal-Mart have admitted the need for increased accessibility to health-care coverage. And why wouldn't Wal-Mart support it? It certainly isn't going to provide any measure of support to most of its employees.

Every individual who is unable to obtain health insurance is another weight around the neck of our nation's economy. More importantly, people who depends on rare and brief emergency room visits that they will never pay for as their primary source of health care, instead of the continuity of care that only a private health practitioner can provide, is damned to a life crippled by preventable complications of chronic disease and untreated injuries because of an inability to obtain insurance.

With the intrusion of big box stores into Juneau, such as Wal-Mart, which provides no health insurance to 60 percent of its workers, this problem will multiply exponentially, as it has in the rest of the country. Appropriate health care for everyone benefits everyone and the cost of our negligence to the needs of our neighbors is greater than the cost of compassion.

No individual who works 40 hours a week should be denied health insurance for his or her dependents. Moreover, government employees' benefits should be an example to private employers.

The advisory vote scheduled for April 3 asks:

Shall the Legislature adopt a proposed amendment to the state constitution to be considered by voters in the 2008 general election that would prohibit the state, or municipality or other subdivision of the state, from providing employment benefits to same-sex partners of public employees and to same-sex partners of public employee retirees?

What a tragic lack of compassion it must take to victimize people - even retirees - in this manner in the hopes that the 2008 election might be made about bigotry rather than candidates. The Legislature ought to be looking for ways to see that all working families have health insurance, rather than constructing barriers for a very small portion of our population.

As the Alaska Supreme Court has declared, denying benefits for one employee's dependents that would be paid to another employee's dependents is unfair. Writing intolerance into our state constitution would not make the practice any more ethical, it would only serve to harm even some people who the purveyors of this hatred had not intended to injure.

I hope that with April's vote, we can put an end to this inquisition. Let's have a presidential election that is about who will make the best president. Until 2008, how about if our state government worries about making health care more accessible rather than singling out populations to take it away from.

Please vote no on this advisory vote for our health care system, for a fair election, for the health of our citizens and our economy. It's also the right thing to do. Leave hatred off the ballot.

• Steve Reese is a critical care and emergency room nurse and member of the Juneau Human Rights Commission.

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