The Weekly Churn, March 14

Senate Passes Ban on Rewarding Neglectful Parents

Senate Bill 474 (SB 474), introduced and sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) last month, would restrict neglectful or abusive parents from receiving settlements from the state if their behavior led to their children’s injury or death. The Oregon Senate voted 26-0 to pass it on Thursday March 7, and will now head to the House for consideration.

Parents who have severely abused and neglected or abandoned their children should not benefit financially from the death of that child,” said Gelser.

The bill would still require proof that parents had been abusive or neglectful, but changes the requirement that the state prove the parents had been neglectful or abusive for at least 10 years down to only one year.

The story at the center of this bill is about Gloria Joya, a 15-year-old Albany girl who died in state custody in 2016 from “untreated gastrointestinal issues.” Joya’s mother, Magan McDermott, received $130,000 as part of a settlement after Joya’s death, despite “overwhelming evidence…of neglect and abuse in her mother’s care.”

McDermott is currently in Benton County Jail on suspicion of giving her 3-month-old son methadone, which nearly killed him.

Budget Tightens Belts Despite Revenue Increase

The Oregon Joint Committee on Ways & Means released a new budget for the next year, showing Oregon will bring in $20.6 billion in revenue by the end of June, $147 million more than expected. However, the budget proposes cutting nearly all state programs by 5 percent, with the exception of healthcare and education. Legislators cite predictions of an upcoming downturn in growth, and are also proposing shifting an additional 1 percent of revenue into the state’s “rainy day” fund for this reason.

We want to acknowledge that this is not a perfect budget,” said Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), one of three co-chairs of the Ways and Means Committee, “But our job is to balance the budget with the resources we have.”

Legislators also noted the “spiraling” pension debt and a Medicaid funding gap, both of which contributed to the more conservative fiscal outlook of the budget.

The bill is absent Gov. Kate Brown’s request for $200 million in additional education funding, instead finding $100 million via new sources like recreational marijuana taxes simply to maintain funding levels that account for increases in pensions and employee benefits. Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward (D-Beaverton), another co-chair on Ways & Means, said that many school districts will still end up with deficits.

The state is also facing down an $800 million funding gap for Medicaid. This gap was partially closed by a $379 million health care package passed recently, but continues to be exacerbated by shrinking federal matching funds for healthcare. The committee had to utilize $350 million from the state’s general fund to keep healthcare systems funded “without cuts to eligibility and benefits.”

Gov. Brown has proposed paying for some of these increasing costs by raising tobacco taxes or by raising taxes on employers who have a high number of employees on Medicaid. Legislators say they based their budget on existing laws and revenues, not proposals or pending legislation.

Measles Outbreak Leads to Mandatory Vaccine Bill

The ongoing outbreak of measles originating in Clark County, Washington now has over 70 confirmed cases (mostly children) in Washington and six confirmed cases in Oregon. The quick spread of the disease and the national attention following the outbreak, spurred Oregon lawmakers to address questions about the potential effects of dangerously low immunization rates, but new legislation is being opposed by activists who perceive mandatory immunization as government overreach.

House Bill 3063 (HB 3063) would ban “non-medical exemptions” for vaccinations, meaning parents would no longer be able to opt out of vaccinating their children on “religious, personal or philosophical reasons.” Only three other states (California, Mississippi, and West Virginia) have already passed this kind of law. Washington, where most of the cases are located, is currently working to pass their own mandatory immunization laws.

Some are protesting the passage of this bill on the grounds that it does not give parents sufficient control over their children’s health, instead “[giving] those rights to unelected bureaucrats,” according to Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer).

Sarah Bacon, executive director of Oregonians for Medical Freedom, an advocacy group who claims to fight against “unnecessary and overreaching mandates that compromise our religious and philosophical liberties,” took a starker position.

“There is no measles emergency,” Bacon declared during a speech at a rally opposing the bill

The House Committee on Health Care, who will vote on whether HB 3063 goes any further, has not yet scheduled a vote.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously considered widespread measles eliminated as of 2000, due in part to rigorous immunization standards.

First OR Case of Pediatric Tetanus In Over 30 years

Physicians and infectious diseases experts around the country are expressing shock at a case study describing treatment of an unvaccinated 6-year-old Oregon boy for an extreme tetanus infection, given that the disease has been all but eliminated by modern immunization practices.

Last Friday, March 8, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published their study of the 2017 case, describing how the boy was hospitalized for two months as doctors worked to treat the aggressive infection.

The boy was given an emergency tetanus vaccine during treatment, but his parents declined to give him a second shot, or any other common childhood immunizations, after he recovered.

Dr. William Schaffner, infectious diseases expert and the chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University, called this a “tragedy and a misunderstanding,” saying he was “flabbergasted,” at the parents’ decision not to immunize after such an incident.

Dr. Judith Guzman-Cotrill, the physician who treated the boy, said that the disease is so uncommon that this was the first case she had ever experienced.

The boy likely contracted the disease when he cut his forehead while playing, after which the family then “stitched up the wound themselves.” Days after the boy exhibited the lockjaw and muscle spasms common to tetanus infections, eventual breathing trouble caused his family to call medical authorities.

According to the Associated Press, “cases of tetanus have dropped by 95 percent in the U.S. since widespread childhood vaccination and adult booster shots became routine nearly 80 years ago. Deaths have dropped 99 percent.”

By Ian MacRonald