- 11:11 pm - Thu, Jul 10, 2014
What is the Business with #NotMyBossBusiness?
Ever since the Hobby Lobby decision, the hashtag #NotMyBossBusiness has been flying through social media – shot from both sides of the aisle of this debate.
“My family planning choices are #NotMyBossBusiness.”
“How is it #NotMyBossBusiness when your boss is paying for it?”
The hashtag has been used as a rallying cry and a target for derision. What it has not been used for is the start of a deliberative conversation about what exactly is a boss’s business?
An employer who provides health insurance contributes financially to the coverage of medical services received by its employees. True – the employee likewise contributes to this coverage and may regard health insurance as part of the pay and benefits earned through her work. However, in the most basic spreadsheet formulation of assets and liabilities, the employer does pay a portion of an employee’s health insurance plan.
The question, then, is whether such a pecuniary relationship creates a determinative relationship on what medical services the employee may receive – especially when such services may conflict with the employer’s religious beliefs.
In general, when an employee visits her physician, the only involvement by an employer is when time off is requested. The employee meets privately with her healthcare providers, reviews their assessment of her health, and determines with them a plan moving forward. If a certain treatment or drug is prescribed, the employee may contact the insurance provider to obtain preclearance. However, even though the employer may be a partial contributor to the payment of the employee’s health plan, at no time does the employer have a right to seek details regarding her treatment. In fact, medical privacy is held sacrosanct by our laws and society, only to be divulged to an employer in very limited circumstances (e.g., the processing of a disability claim, etc.).
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, an employer may now enter this physician-patient relationship from its employee’s first day, by determining what treatment options are available in the company’s insurance plan – not for cost-savings or business purposes, but based purely upon the employer’s religious beliefs. Before an employee even meets with her physician, she already knows what is off the table for treatment options.
Putting aside the health and economic benefits of responsible family planning, the challenged contraception devices in the Hobby Lobby case are regularly used for non-contraceptive purposes. The National Institutes of Health, for example, found a decreased incidence of endometrial cancer when nonhormonal IUDs were used. Another one of the challenged devices, the levonorgestrel intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) has been used to treat menorrhagia and anemia, as well as serve as an adjuvant therapy to the chemotherapy.
Which leads me to wonder – when it comes to benefits, when does a boss’s business end and an employee’s self-determination begin? When must an employee divulge her private medical history in order to assuage an employer’s religious conflict?
Is health insurance to be regarded as a company car, which may only be used to further the purpose of the employer? In that scenario, the employer may unarguably dictate the employee’s use of the car – from where she may travel to what gas station can be used for refueling. The company car is owned by the employer, the property of the employer, entrusted to the employee pursuant to policies and procedures set by the employer. The employee may occasionally use it for personal purposes, and seek permission to do so, but it is understood that the car is owned exclusively by the employer and offered as a revocable perk of employment to the employee.
The Supreme Court’s decision seems to suggest that that is just what health insurance is – regardless of the employee’s contribution to its costs, regardless of the employee’s right to choose her healthcare treatment options, regardless of her right to medical privacy. For a decision that seeks to humanize a closely-held corporation and its religious beliefs, it quickly dehumanizes the individual employee and her right to self-determination.
#NotMyBossBusiness addresses the juxtaposition of two conflicting ideas of business – it is a declaration that an employee’s healthcare should be a private matter not subject to scrutiny by her employer and is a recognition that an employer diverges from its primary business function when it attempts to do so.
- 7:44 pm - Sun, Jun 29, 2014
Courts may rule on laws, but we rule on civility
Back in law school, I volunteered as a clinic escort for the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, and witnessed up close what buffer zones were designed to restrict. The recent Supreme Court case has caused me to wrestle with ideas of conflicting freedoms and what talk we walk when called upon to do so.
To my core, I believe that the freedom in our country begins with the 1st Amendment. But, there has to be a civility we demand in our society. One that may not be legally enforced, but a true social compact of compassion we encourage each other to express, even when we passionately disagree. As I tell my children - just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it. There must be a deliberation, a discernment, a contemplation of what effect our choices will have on others.
Although the Constitution may grant Westboro Baptist Church the right to protest funerals, we as a society can respond that we find such behavior repugnant. Although state laws may allow gun owners to tote long-arm rifles in a grocery store’s diaper aisle, we as a society can respond that we find such behavior idiotically dangerous.
Our courts may determine the legality of an individual act, but it is our society that ultimately determines its acceptability. My wish is that we as individuals hold each other accountable as a collective, regardless of political party or issue affiliation. And regardless of what the Supreme Court says we can do.
- 5:05 pm - Fri, Nov 15, 2013
- 1 note
Taxation with Discrimination
The McDonnell administration has doubled down on its antipathy toward LGBT Virginians (with the Family Foundation claiming credit in an email blast). Last Friday the Virginia Department of Taxation announced a new state tax policy that discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying their ability to file joint state tax returns. To make matters worse, the new policy also imposes additional paperwork and accounting requirements on Virginia businesses. Whether you’re a supporter of equality, a supporter of business, or both, the solution is clear: this new policy has got to go.
Instead of embracing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Virginia has signaled its continued opposition to basic fairness by singling out married same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment under state tax laws. The tax department’s ruling is inconsistent with federal income tax laws and is in conflict with the state law that requires conformity with federal rules. As a result, married same-sex couples in Virginia can file joint tax returns at the federal level, but will have to file as single or head of household at the state level. Moreover, under the announced policy, the married couple will have to recalculate their individual adjusted gross incomes to add back to their income amounts legally deducted under federal law.
Virginia businesses also will suffer. Under the new policy, Virginia businesses that utilize the federal tax deduction that allows employers to claim a federal tax deduction for fringe benefits offered to employees’ spouses and dependents must adjust their state tax filings to reflect the Commonwealth’s refusal to recognize married same-sex couples. No other state has imposed such requirements on businesses. It appears that the intended effect is to discourage businesses from offering such benefits by making their administration particularly onerous.
It is shameful that Virginia continues to deny equality to and impose discriminatory policies on LGBT Virginians. And, in these harsh economic times, it is outrageous that an administration that claims that Virginia is good for business has decided to impose new paperwork and accounting requirements on Virginia businesses, and, particularly on struggling small businesses.
Instead of focusing on discrimination, Governor McDonnell should have taken a lesson from his counterpart in Missouri. Like Virginia, the Missouri constitution only recognizes a marriage between a man and a women. Yet, Missouri’s Governor, Jay Nixon, took the polar opposite approach to addressing the rights of legally married couples under state tax policy. Yesterday, Governor Nixon issued an executive order directing the state’s tax department to accept joint returns from married same-sex couples. This common sense, inclusive response should serve as a model for all states that currently deny marriage equality.
Unfortunately, the McDonnell administration again chose to embrace the discriminatory option. This new rule has helped Virginia solidify its disgraceful standing as a national leader in hostility toward LGBT residents. While the federal lawsuit (Harris v. McDonnell) that the ACLU and Lambda Legal filed to bring marriage equality to Virginia ultimately will compel the Commonwealth to end its discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples, neither Virginia residents nor Virginia businesses should have to wait for the federal courts to act to assure them fair treatment under the law.
By Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia
- 4:54 pm - Thu, Sep 12, 2013
Constitution Day: What Should We Celebrate?
On September 17th, we will celebrate the 226th birthday of our Constitution. But what precisely should we celebrate?
In the summer of 1787, the founders created a remarkable framework for our democracy — but their document was deeply flawed.
Individual liberty was not protected from the power of government in the original Constitution submitted for ratification. The founders had to add a Bill of Rights to reflect a broader vision of freedom.
Even with the Bill of Rights, the Constitution remained flawed — it protected slavery and it denied women basic rights including the right to vote.
The Constitution we celebrate today, a document guaranteeing equality before the law, required a bloody civil war before amendments brought black Americans within the Constitution.
It took more than 175 years after the Constitution was written before civil rights laws outlawed discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. And, it took over 175 years before the Voting Rights Act invalidated Virginia’s constitutionally imposed poll tax and literacy test.
What is true for the struggle for racial equality is also true about the struggle for other liberties.
It was not until 1920 that the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote. This was not due to the wisdom of the founders and the original Constitution, but to the struggle in the streets that followed. In Virginia, a report issued in 1941 concerning the poll tax and other barriers to voting imposed on black voters by Virginia’s 1902 Constitution said that “fear of large numbers of Negro women voters” fueled opposition to the women’s suffrage amendment that was “decisively rejected” by the General Assembly and not officially ratified by our legislature until 1952 – more than three decades after it became part of the Constitution.
If the framers knowingly left out blacks and women, they didn’t even consider the rights of LGBT people, children, students, prisoners, the mentally ill, immigrants and those with physical disabilities. For nearly all of our history, these groups were largely unprotected by the Constitution. But one by one, they and their advocates have fought to have the Constitution and Bill of Rights apply to them.
But what happens when the government violates the Constitution — when it makes a law restricting free speech or religious liberty?
The conventional answer is that the courts will step in. But courts don’t act on their own. They are powerless to fulfill their function unless an aggrieved person challenges the constitutional violation.
In 1910 the NAACP was established, followed in 1920 by the ACLU. They gradually developed the resources to challenge constitutional violations on behalf of people who could not have done it alone: Tennessee school teacher John Scopes would not likely have challenged the law making it a crime to teach evolution without the help of the ACLU and its volunteer attorney, Clarence Darrow.
And it’s not likely that Oliver Brown could have challenged school segregation in 1950 without the Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP.
So when we celebrate our Constitution, we celebrate not only the remarkable document drafted 226 years ago at the Philadelphia Convention, and not just those who first penned rights on to parchment.
We also celebrate the men and women who took that document seriously, who fought to make those rights a reality and expand its protections to those left out — who risked their lives to fight for the constitutional rights of all Americans.
We celebrate Frederick Douglass in the 19th Century and Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s “color line” in the 20th Century. We celebrate Oliver Brown, who bravely walked his daughter Linda to their neighborhood school, previously restricted by law to white children.
We celebrate Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and the murdered civil rights workers who were dumped in a Mississippi dam in the summer of ‘64.
We celebrate Barbara Rose Johns and the students at Moton High School who challenged massive resistance. We celebrate Richard and Mildred Loving who simply wanted the freedom to marry and sought help from lawyers who became the founders of the Virginia ACLU.
And we celebrate those who had the vision to create organizations like the NAACP and the ACLU that make it possible to enforce the Constitution and allow people to assert and defend their constitutional rights, and challenge government abuses.
- 3:34 pm - Tue, Aug 6, 2013
Community and Faith Leaders Urge a Humane Budget: an Open Letter to Our Senators
Community and faith leaders in metro-Richmond are expressing concern this week that sequestration and other federal budget cuts are disproportionately hurting the poor and vulnerable in our community.
In a letter delivered to Senators Warner and Kaine, the faith and community leaders urge the Senators to stand firm in protecting human needs and social safety net programs from cuts in their budget negotiations this fall. The letter also urges Pentagon savings. Both Senators serve on the Senate Budget Committee.
A wide range of respected faith, community and policy leaders have signed on to the letter, which is being circulated by the Richmond Peace Education Center. Representatives of the Peace Center and other agencies will meet with Senator Kaine, and a top aide to Senator Warner, this month.
The letter is below, followed by a list of signatories.
Dear Senator Warner and Senator Kaine,
As faith and community leaders in Virginia, we are deeply concerned about budget trends that are hurting our communities. We are particularly concerned that projected cuts will hurt disproportionately the poor and vulnerable in our society.
For example, if sequester cuts continue this year, 10,900 children and mothers in Virginia will go hungry without the WIC program, 2,287 low-income families will lose rental housing vouchers, and $14 million will be cut from Title 1 K-12 funding for schools in low-income communities. We are further concerned that the President’s budget proposal would cut Social Security payments over the next ten years.
Senator Warner, we appreciate the role you played on the Senate Budget Committee in crafting the budget resolution that recently passed the Senate. We remain concerned, however, that any final agreement on federal spending and revenues will be felt most harshly by those who can least afford it.
We hope both of you, as Virginia Senators, will work to ensure that negotiations focus on:
Increased Revenue: The current system of tax expenditures—through loopholes, credits, deductions and other benefits—disproportionately favors the wealthy. The numerous tax exemptions in the tax code are also exorbitantly expensive, costing about $1.1 trillion a year. We urge you to support positive tax reform which increases taxes on the wealthy while protecting refundable tax credits for low-income earners.
Smart Pentagon savings: The Pentagon budget, which has grown by about 50 percent in real terms in the last decade, is still projected to be higher ten years from now than it was during most of the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Our nation needs to find more savings in that area while also ensuring that we have appropriate transition assistance for communities that may be impacted by these changes.
As you participate in Senate deliberations on how to balance our federal budget, we urge you to focus on the following top line priorities:
1) Protecting human needs and social safety net programs from cuts
2) Raising revenues without harming low-income earners or the progressivity of the tax code
3) Finding smart Pentagon savings of at least $1 trillion over ten years.
4) Reinvesting in programs to assist communities in transition and to build new economic opportunities
We look forward to sending a delegation of some of those who have signed below to discuss these issues in person with you.
Signatures from Community and Faith Leaders:
• Parker Agelasto, Councilman, City Council of Richmond, VA
• Rev. Jonathon Barton, General Minister, Virginia Council of Churches, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell, Pastoral Director, Richmond Hill, Richmond, VA
• Rev. David Brunk, Pastor, West Richmond Church of the Brethren, Richmond, VA
• Betsy Carr, Delegate, Virginia General Assembly House of Delegates
• *Sandra Cook, Chairperson, Virginia Organizing, Virginia
• *Heather Crislip, Executive Director, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), Richmond, VA
• Rev. James C. Griffin, Pastor, St. Mark’s Catholic Church, Chesapeake, VA
• *Marco Grimaldo, CEO & President, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
• Jane Helfrich, CEO, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, Richmond, VA
• Rev. David Hindman, Pastor, Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, Ashland, VA
• Rev. Rodney Hunter, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Richmond, Va.
• Denna Joy, Clerk, Richmond Friends Meeting, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Daniel Klem, Pastor, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Norfolk, VA
• Ms. Karen Legato, Executive Director, Fan Free Clinic, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe, Retired Director - Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
• Patricia Owen, Summer Minister, First Unitarian Church, Richmond, VA
• Rebecca Oxenreider, Minister of Human Concerns, St. Mary Catholic Church, Richmond, VA
• Rev. James Payne, Retired Director - Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Richmond, VA
• Sheila Pleasants, Executive Director, Southside Child Development Center, Chesterfield, VA
• *Richmond Mennonite Fellowship, Richmond, VA
• Rabbi Ben Romer, Congregation Or Ami, Richmond, VA
• *Dr. Adria Scharf, Executive Director, Richmond Peace Education Center, Richmond, VA
• Rev. Isabel Steilberg, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Newport News, VA
• Neil Walsh, Director of Social Ministry, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Norfolk, VA
• Rev. Dr. Janet Winslow, Pastor, Bon Air Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
- 3:03 pm
As coordinator of the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health at Voices for Virginia’s Children, I regularly talk to parents who are struggling to help their children with mental health issues. They are often extremely frustrated because they cannot find the treatment that their child needs in their community, or there is a long wait list for services, or their insurance won’t pay for the type of treatment their child needs.
Compounding these frustrations, many parents with whom I talk feel isolated. They don’t know other families struggling with children’s mental health disorders. They may not be receiving support from friends or their child’s school. Their families’ lives have been thrown into disarray – emotionally, logistically, and financially – as they try to find help for the child who needs it while continuing to work and take care of other children.
One question I often hear is, “Why it is so difficult to get help when your child has a mental health problem as opposed to a physical health problem?” The answer is complex, and the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health is working to improve access to services through a variety of strategies.
The key to improving access to children’s mental health services – through every strategy we are using – is mobilizing the families who have experience with this issue. And there are more of you than you might think. Did you know that 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder? Chances are you DO know other families who have a child with ADHD, depression, anxiety, or another mental health challenge, but because of the stigma that still exists, you and they have never made the connection.
Part of what we do at the Campaign is help families realize the difference they can make by speaking out, and we equip them to do so. For example:
• Telling your stories can reduce the stigma of mental illness; together, we can help reduce the isolation so many families and children feel, and make it okay to ask for help.
• Walking advocates through the barriers your family has encountered as you’ve tried to seek help enables us to identify the policies that need to be changed or the types of services that need to be created.
• Sharing your experience with legislators can help them realize the real-life implications of the funding decisions they make.
One parent we’ve worked with at the Campaign is Shannon Haworth. After talking to lawmakers in Washington, DC, she was asked in a radio interview last summer what it feels like to advocate. She replied, “You feel like you’re just a parent in a sea of other parents who need help, and so when you’re able to talk to people and tell your specific story and have people listen, it empowers you.”
Please join the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health at www.1in5kids.org so that all families who struggle with the children’s mental health system can be similarly empowered.