Legislators visit Summit County Board of Health
Members of the Summit County Board of Health have recently met with several legislators to talk about issues such as mental health services and medical marijuana.
Utah Reps. Mel Brown, Kraig Powell and Brian S. King, along with Utah Sen. Kevin Van Tassell attended the last two meetings to talk ahead of Utah’s 2016 legislative session, which begins on Jan. 25.
"The Board of Health invited them to be able to put a face to the board and the issues of Summit County to build a relationship with them," said Richard Bullough, director of the Summit County Board of Health. "Even more important than having them listen was making sure the legislators understood that the board is there to support them and provide information."
Leading the discussion last week, Bullough told legislators that Medicaid expansion is critical for the county to be able to provide sufficient behavioral health and substance abuse services because those most in need are typically uninsured. The Summit County Health Department, in conjunction with Valley Behavioral Health, has made it a priority to assess the county’s ability to respond to those issues.
"One thing we know is that there are not enough resources in the system and it’s impossible to meet the need," Bullough said.
King said, "I would like to think that we can make some progress on this in the next session."
"But I don’t know that it will get very far down the road," King said. "The more information we can get that is definitive and is very specific the better. Its not about Medicaid expansion, it’s about how this affects you at the county level. The more information Kevin and I can get that we can take back to our colleagues, ‘here are some hard numbers about individuals here’ and all that nonsense should fly out the window."
Tassell said the same discussion has been going on in the Senate and "we realize if we are going to succeed, we have to do something in this area."
"I agree 100 percent," Tassell said in response to King’s comment.
Another topic that dominated the conversations concerned the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana and the ability to regulate it. Board members have said they do not support Sen. Mark Madsen’s medical marijuana bill, but would be in favor of something more conservative and more regulated.
"We do have some medical marijuana bills and I think something will pass," King said.
When the topic was broached last week, Board of Health chair Heidi Jaeger said it was naïve to think the state could build a wall against the surrounding states that have legalized it.
Bullough emphasized that Jaeger’s position did not represent the board as a whole. He said when the board suggested raising the topic with the legislators, he cautioned against it.
"It was not one of the topics I would have suggested," Bullough said. "But they wanted to discuss it. They have been much more supportive of Sen. Vickers’ legislation that is a little more restrictive and adds a mandatory research component. I’m on the fence on this issue. I think Colorado has made mistakes and it’s my own view, but I’m not sure it rises to a public health priority and something we need to be engaged in."
Other topics discussed with the legislators included e-cigarettes, the county’s ability to regulate failing septic systems and communicable diseases.
Bullough said although he was pleased with the level of engagement from the legislators, which indicated a general interest in the county’s issues, he is generally frustrated with the Legislature.
"I was thrilled with the interaction and I thought it was very positive and sincere," Bullough said. "But I am very frustrated with the Legislature’s inability to come to some agreements. We need the resources to adequately provide our services and we are not getting it. While I have always been really optimistic, I am less optimistic now and I don’t know what will come out of this session."
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