The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for a year now, and in that time, there’s been little to get excited about. Many restaurants and small businesses have been decimated. Emergency orders have been abused across the state and country. And we all know the impact it’s had on kids in school.
But amid this great adversity, not all has been lost. Some things have emerged as great values to our society. One of those is telehealth.
Right now is the perfect time to leverage what we’ve learned and remove any barriers to this great service. And so far, it seems that our state is headed that way.
Momentum is building at the legislature for Arizona to once again lead on health care reform, this time by seeking legislation to make permanent Governor Ducey’s emergency executive order that allows Arizona residents to obtain telehealth services from practitioners licensed in any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Preventing telehealth to consumers has been outdated for years, especially given the fact that licensing requirements for medical professionals are nearly identical across all 50 states. Furthermore, as pointed out by Cato Senior Fellow Dr. Jeff Singer, out-of-state providers would still be required to follow all state laws and regulations, meaning the standard for care will be the same for patients whether or not the medical professional resides in the state or not.
And Governor Ducey backs this up in his 2021 Policy Priorities stating, “If it’s safe and it works during a pandemic, we should embrace it when we’re not in an emergency as well.”
Unfortunately, some Democrats are already trying to put up a barrier to telehealth. They want to prevent the people of Arizona from accessing providers out of state.
But there is no good reason to deny someone the ability to use this service. The benefits are far too great.
By simply allowing telehealth services from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., the people of Arizona would gain access to the best available medical professionals across the country. Think about what that could mean for your health care.
Plus, you would save both time and money by not traveling to and from a doctor’s office or waiting for an appointment. That’s right. No more awkwardly paging through a magazine that’s 3 months old while you wait for your lab results. If you don’t need an in-person consultation for your health issue, just sign on your computer, attend your appointment, and get back to doing the things you really love.
In addition to these benefits, providers would be much more motivated to improve the quality of their services. And they would be more likely to look at ways to reduce their costs to make sure they remain competitive.
But perhaps the best part is, it’s your choice. If you don’t want to use telehealth services, you don’t have to. But why deny someone the opportunity to do so if he or she thinks it would be best?
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we need more consumer choice in health care. Thankfully, telehealth isn’t anything new. Just ask anyone who’s been using 1-800 Contacts for the last couple decades. But expanding its reach would provide a great benefit to the people of Arizona because telehealth puts patients first, not profits.
Now, Arizona could become the first state in the country to permanently allow licensed medical professionals from other states to provide telehealth services to its residents. We just need to help Governor Ducey convince our legislators.
It seems that not a day goes by before you hear about another person or group being banned from social media. And it likely won’t shock you to find that the majority of them…are conservative.
Take LifeSiteNews for example. Earlier this month, Google-owned YouTube, which happens to be the largest video-sharing site on the internet, deplatformed the pro-life group without explanation.
And just a couple weeks before that, YouTube demonetized The Epoch Times, an independent news media that doesn’t claim any party affiliation.
But YouTube isn’t alone in its desire to play speech police. Just last week, Facebook deleted actor Kevin Sorbo’s page and didn’t even bother to tell him why. And if you don’t think banning Hercules is bad enough, Twitter went ahead and shut down MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell permanently. Surely it must’ve been because some disgruntled Twitter moderator wasn’t happy with his night’s sleep. But no. It’s because Mr. Lindell is a Trump supporter, who Twitter also banned while he was still the President of the United States.
And then there’s Parler, an actual social media company that, according to its website, “is built upon a foundation of respect for privacy and personal data, free speech, free markets, and ethical, transparent corporate policy.” In January, Google and Apple teamed up to remove the Parler app from their app stores, and Amazon ceased providing Parler with its cloud computing services, completely removing it from the internet.
The big tech giants claimed it was because Parler didn’t do enough to address threats to people’s safety in the wake of the Capitol riots on January 6. But then why didn’t these same companies suspend or ban leftists who endorsed the violent riots that took place across the country last summer?
The hypocrisy is nauseating, but the future is terrifying.
Facebook claims it wants to “reduce the amount of politics” on its site. And the company flaunts a temporary stop to all ads about social issues, elections, or politics in the United States since November 4 (which so far has also prohibited The Club from running any paid ads on the platform over the past few months). But can Facebook really be trusted? After all, whose politics does it plan to reduce? Or is there something more going on?
Since 2019, the Democrats have been trying to pass HR1, which touts itself as the “For the People Act.” But make no mistake, this bill is only for one specific group of people. Among the many items within the resolution, HR1 would require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors and create reporting requirements for online political ads. That’s right. It’s about doxing people. And given the trends we’ve seen on social media since the beginning of the year, who do you think they’re going to dox, punish, and ultimately cancel?
Conservatives can no longer stand for this. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple have all drawn a line in the sand. And now, it’s time to stop this big tech oligopoly from completely destroying the public square.
We have become well acquainted with the autocratic, unchecked power of Big Tech and their censorship. It was just last month that the President of the United States was deplatformed from every social media platform – once one pulled the trigger, the dominos fell and within hours President Trump was removed from the internet.
Poland is considering bold actions against the unchecked power multi-billion dollar corporations have obtained in deciding what speech is acceptable and what is not, comparing the actions of these platforms to what they experienced during the communist era. Here in America, where freedom of speech is understood as a fundamental, inalienable right of a free people, Big Tech takes advantage of their section 230 protections, while continuing to censor, deplatform, or shadow ban users with whom they disagree, garnering outrage from politicians, but no action.
Beyond their deplatforming, shadow banning and censorship, the 2020 election gave rise to a new influence Big Tech has in our democracy with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg alone giving hundreds of millions to election offices to influence or change the way local elections offices conducted the election.
The idea that Zuckerberg and Big Tech would give away their millions simply out of the goodness of their heart to protect democracy without trying to exert influence for one candidate or ideology is at the least questionable. And we need not simply theorize about their plan, corporations are outright bragging about their master plan of coordinating the results of the election now that it is over:
“Their work touched every aspect of the election. They got states to change voting systems and laws and helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding. They fended off voter-suppression lawsuits, recruited armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time.”
One focus of this election influence is the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL) which in 2018 spent a mere $1.4 million, but in 2020 received over $350 million from Zuckerberg and his wife alone. This influence was seen throughout the country – right here in Arizona too.
Capital Research has looked into CTCL and found that it spent $5 million in Arizona, $3 million of which went to Maricopa County led by Democrat County Recorder Adrian Fontes – essentially the electorally decisive county. And what happened in Maricopa County? Though Trump went from 590,465 votes in 2016 to 995,665 in 2020, he lost the county to Biden who somehow doubled Clinton’s 2016 performance, receiving 1,040,774 votes in 2020. This equaled $1.80 from the CTCL per Biden vote in Maricopa County.
But what kind of effect did Big Tech money, and especially Zuckerberg and the CTCL, actually have? It’s just as the Times article brags – “they got states to change voting systems and laws…” In Wisconsin, the Zuckerberg backed grant stipulated the submittal to CTCL and implementation of the “Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan” circumventing the role of the legislature and other elected bodies in the development of elections procedures. In Pennsylvania, the grants aided in the placement of a ballot drop box every four-square miles or for every 4,000 voters in Democrat strongholds compared to one drop box every 1,100 square miles or for every 72,000 voters in Republican strongholds.
This is the new Big Tech censorship. Though not removing someone from their platform, they drown out conservative votes by giving money to elections offices to drive up turnout in select locations while ignoring others. This creates a two-tier election system suppressing the turnout of voters Zuckerberg doesn’t like.
The left has complained about the role of money in elections. The hundreds of millions spent at local elections offices wasn’t philanthropy, it was a strategic investment with an expected return. The best approach to ensuring election integrity is a proactive one, but this election is over and we can’t go back, so it is time that states pass strong legislation prohibiting private, outside funding of election offices. Even the appearance of impropriety in elections is dangerous, so elections should be funded, directed, and guided by state governments not private organizations and especially not Big Tech.
Arizonans are tired of politicians raising their taxes for transportation. When lawmakers approved the highly unpopular $32 car registration fee, taxpayers were so irate that the legislature eventually repealed the fee altogether. The last two years, lawmakers attempted to increase the gas tax but were met with such hostility from voters that the bills fizzled and died.
Still, lawmakers have not learned their lesson.
SB1650 this year, sponsored by Sen. Livingston, features not one, but six transportation tax increases all in one bill:
- Increases the gas tax, currently set at $.18 cents a gallon, by a penny each year until 2045.
- Increases the gas tax annually by the rate of inflation, ensuring it constantly increases up and above the one penny each year into perpetuity.
- Increases the use fuel tax (diesel), currently at $0.26, by a penny each year until 2045.
- Increases the diesel tax by the rate of inflation – a never ending, automatic tax increase to which legislators would not have to be held accountable.
- Implements a new $500 tax on electric and $300 tax on hybrid vehicles.
- Increases the Maricopa county transportation tax from a half penny to ¾ of a penny if approved by the voters in 2022.
Despite what the spending lobby at the capitol tells lawmakers, Arizona does not have a transportation funding crisis. Arizona has a transportation wasteful spending crisis.
With transportation revenue coming from gas taxes, registration and title fees, county and city transportation taxes, appropriations from the General Fund, and money from the federal Highway Trust Fund, the solution to our infrastructure needs is not raising taxes. The solution is to stop funding bad projects and better prioritize investments.
State Waste: Every year, lawmakers across the state introduce bills to bring the pork back to their districts. Instead of prioritizing major bridges, highways, and freeways, lawmakers approve millions in projects that can and should be funded by counties or cities. Additionally, Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) dollars have been swept by the legislature year after year to fund the Department of Public Safety. Instead of finding a way to properly fund DPS, the legislature handed their taxing authority over to the Department of Transportation and Arizonans saw the infamous $32 Highway Safety Fee.
County Waste: In the case of the Maricopa County transportation tax (Prop 400), a third of this revenue is statutorily earmarked for public transit like light rail. The net effect, cities like Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe have cannibalized hundreds of millions of dollars meant to be spent on regional projects in order to build trains to nowhere. Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars for these boondoggles to provide transit to less than 1% of the population.
SB1650 continues the allowance of this waste while simultaneously attempting to deceive voters by making it appear as if this is simply a continuation of the current county tax when it is an increase.
City Waste: Of the transportation sales tax approved in 2015, the City of Phoenix allocated 35% to light rail and 51% to bus service, leaving just 14% to street maintenance despite only 30% of streets in Phoenix being considered in good condition. The latest light rail extension cost $245 million per mile to construct, reduced lanes on already congested roads, needs to be continuously subsidized with tax dollars for operations and siphons resources from critical road maintenance projects.
State county, and local governments should stop funding bad projects like light rail and misusing or poorly prioritizing funds, and instead responsibly budget and prioritize the many revenue streams that already exist.
Bad bills such as SB1650 ignore recent years of state surpluses, turns a blind eye to the massive waste in the system and disregards the myriad of funding mechanisms in place. But perhaps most importantly, SB1650 is completely tone deaf to the angst taxpayers have for any more tax increases.
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on parents’ lives for almost a year now, especially when it comes to the education of their children. And while solutions to move learning online seem simple, the reality has been much different.
Just ask students of color and low-income parents and children.
A recent study by McKinsey and Company shows that students of color are up to five months behind in learning. And by the end of the school year, the study estimates that these same students could be one year behind.
That should be cause for concern for anyone who takes their job as an educator seriously. But instead, teachers’ unions threatened to strike if schools reopened this past fall. And many continue to consider stunts like “sick outs,” even with multiple schools in our state returning safely to in-person learning.
But these threats only prove to be deaf to the challenges faced by low-income students, many of whom lack access to the proper technological resources or quiet study environments that can help make virtual learning successful. To top that off, most low-income parents are unable to work from home to help their children with this distance “learning.”
That’s why it’s no surprise that there’s been a mass exodus of students from district schools. One report estimates up to 3 million students across the country who haven’t experienced any formal education since last March. And Arizona certainly isn’t immune to this educational pandemic. Chandler Unified School District has approximately 1,600 fewer students than it anticipated. And this comes after the district positioned itself to be one of the few in Arizona that expected an increase in enrollment for this year. That projection was enough to convince Chandler residents to vote for a $290 million bond measure in 2019. Now, the district faces a possible funding loss of $21 million.
It’s clear that COVID has changed the game for the education debate in Arizona. And that’s why it’s understandable that so many students and parents have deserted their public schools. Parents need help. But many school boards continue to waver between virtual and in-person learning.
In the meantime, parents are seeking out better options for their kids. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), which allow parents to use their tax dollars to homeschool or choose an alternative learning solution for their children, have exploded around the state since the pandemic hit. And now, Senate Bill 1452, introduced by Senator Paul Boyer, seeks to expand the ESA program to include low-income students. The bill would give parents up to $7,000 in ESA funds to spend on their children’s education and cut the approval waiting time for parents to 30 days instead of 100.
Thankfully, last week the Arizona Senate Education Committee passed SB1452 amid support from prominent black leaders, like Pastor Drew Anderson. They hope to offset what is known as the prison pipeline due to a lack of education and would much rather see our tax dollars invested in education, most especially school choice.
Predictably, teachers’ unions disapprove and are doing everything they can to stop SB1452 from becoming law.
But something needs to be done. Low-income students deserve an opportunity to attend schools that will work for them. As Pastor Drew says, “School choice is today’s modern Civil Rights movement, and we must get this bill passed.”