The Crazy Story of How Some Politicians Make Decisions

How personal experiences shape lawmaking

Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers and an especially warm welcome to our newest subscribers! For those of you who have been here since the early part of 2021, you know my plan to produce a mix of types of articles each week including hard news, analysis, opinion, and pop-culture review pieces. This week’s opinion column focuses on the ways that some politicians go about making decisions based on personal experiences. We would all agree that having political leaders who are well-informed and do not form their opinions based solely on personal experiences is desirable, but how do we get there? I would love to hear from those of you who have some thoughts and ideas on this topic. Until then, let’s get caught up on some updates.

Global Updates

  • Ontario startup RENITA Medical and the Hospital for Sick Children are teaming up to work on a research project that examines the effects of concussions on women. Most research has been on the male brain, but women tend to have more extreme symptoms for longer periods of time. The research will use a new technology called MEG scanning that can measure brain activity in specific regions and map how they interact with others. The researchers hope to develop a concussion tool that will accurately diagnose concussions and take into account differences of biological sex in the diagnosis according to company co-founder Caitlin Baltzer.

  • The Spanish Parliament is expected to pass a law later this year to define all non-consensual sex as rape. Under current law, a perpetrator must have used violence or intimidation in order for an attack to be considered rape. This law will bring Spain into alignment with eleven other EU countries.  

National Updates

  • President Biden backs the recommendation from an independent review board to take the prosecution of military sexual assault cases away from the command and give them to independent prosecutors. All branches of the military have a long history of rampant sexual assault, and in spite of attempts to improve the situation, assaults continue. According to a report by Reuters, “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon will work with Congress to create dedicated offices within each military branch to handle the prosecution of the crimes.”

  • The White House released its annual Report on Personnel which revealed that the Biden administration is the most diverse ever. With women making up 60% of the staff and 44% of the staff being from diverse backgrounds, Biden fulfilled a campaign promise. Another interesting statistic in the report shows that the gender pay gap is only 1% between men and women. I call that good leadership.

Update on Child Care Issues in North Carolina

Those of you who are North Carolinians may recall that last week’s call to action was to contact your state house representative to vote down Senate Bill 570, and to encourage them to seek additional funding from the state’s surplus or the federal coronavirus dollars to boost the pay of child care workers. 

Since then, I have spoken to my own Senator Valerie Foushee by phone and Senator Sydney Batch via email to get an understanding of why all of the Senate Democrats voted for the bill. Both senators told me that the Republican senators, who hold a supermajority, were unwilling to use any of the available coronavirus or tax surplus dollars toward boosting child care staff pay. The Republican solution to the problem was to allow less qualified staff to populate the child care centers without having the centers lose their top ratings for up to six years.

The Department of Health and Human Services was so disturbed by the original bill that they asked the Democratic senators to help make some changes. The changes included reducing the amount of time that child care centers would be allowed to hold a five-star rating when only 50% of their staff was highly qualified from six years to two years. In addition, the bill now has provisions that encourage the creation of additional classes and associate’s degree programs for child care workers. The hope is that with additional seats in classes, the state will end up with more qualified child care workers. With these changes, the NCDHHS supported the bill and that is why all of the senators voted for it unanimously. 

While I certainly wish that we could convince the Republican senators that money spent on child care is one of the best investments the state could make, I also understand the way that the political sausage is made so to speak. This is a case where the Democrats did their best to improve a bad bill when they knew they could not win the big prize. 

The Crazy Story of How Some Politicians Make Decisions

We all relate to situations that we have experienced more strongly than those we have not. If you have never had chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then it is probably difficult for you to imagine what that would feel like. But that does not mean that you cannot have empathy for the person who is having that experience. And for politicians who represent vast constituencies, empathy is an important character trait. However, we seem to have a major empathy problem in many of our legislatures when it comes to enacting laws that help people who are truly suffering.

Politicians hear from all types of people trying to sway their opinion, primarily lobbyists and constituents. One would hope that they would take that information in, and then have their staffs collect unbiased data so that they can make an informed decision. But watching the North Carolina Senate move through their decision-making on legalizing a medical marijuana bill called the NC Compassionate Care Act demonstrates that many times these decisions are based on personal experiences or those of their friends or family members. 

While I applaud Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) for bringing the issue of medical marijuana legalization to the legislature, it was his personal experience with cancer that motivated him to do so. Over the years, several marijuana legalization bills have come before the legislature, but they never went anywhere. It was not until a powerful Republican senator sponsored a bill that it received attention. When Senator Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston) spoke at last week’s Senate hearing, her voice caught with emotion as she told the committee that six months ago she likely would not have voted for the bill, but now that her husband has multiple myeloma, she understands the need for it. 

I have compassion and empathy for Senator Harrington and her husband, but why does an issue have to be personal in order for a legislator to have compassion for others? Legalizing medical marijuana can help thousands of North Carolina citizens.

When Senator Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) was asked by fellow Senator Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) why chronic pain was left off the list of approved ailments that the bill allows, he said they decided to exclude it because of a conversation that he had with a man who thought that his son’s drug problems started when he got a possibly-bogus prescription for marijuana in another state claiming to have chronic pain. Perhaps Senator Lee should discuss this with chronic pain doctors and patients rather than basing such an important decision on the comments of one father. 

This is a problem across our government, not only here in North Carolina. We have seen that time after time some of our elected officials have not done their homework, yet vote on important issues that affect us all. While I understand that legislators have limited staff and time to prepare, I certainly expect them to make informed decisions based on their research rather than personal experiences. Whether it is octogenarian U.S. Senators who do not understand modern technology or male legislators displaying their ignorance of the female reproductive system, major decisions affecting millions of lives are affected negatively.

The members of the public who spoke at the North Carolina senate hearing shared personal stories of chronic physical pain that would crush most of us. But there they were, advocating as if their lives depended on it. These folks have lobbied the legislature for years to no avail. Only now because some legislators have had personal experiences that changed their minds on the issue do we have an opportunity for help at all.  Some would say to be grateful for progress, but this system of lawmaking is not serving people well.

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