Celebrating the First Amendment in Floyd, VA – WVTF

The first amendment to the U.S. constitution is just a few short lines, but it speaks volumes. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This past weekend, more than a hundred people in Floyd, Virginia came out to celebrate those words and explore their meaning. Robbie Harris prepared this report.

In a cathedral-like post and beam auditorium at the Floyd Eco Center, they sang songs, read poems and essays theyd written for the occasion and shared their thoughts about that powerful sentence. The celebration was the brainchild of Alan Graf, a civil rights attorney, activist and lover of blue grass music whod hoped to retire in Floyd and learn to play the banjo.

But in the past few months, he says, hes seen his beloved first amendment coming under attack, and he felt he had to say something. I think our best defense against any grabbing of power is our ability to speak and thats why I wanted to put together this celebration to remind people to use it

Graf explains, he devoted his life to being a watchdog for civil rights because of his own familys story. His grandparents were killed in the Holocaust in Germany during World War II.

So its in my family to fight against totalitarian regimes – and I see the writing on the wall. And so Ive been defending the constitution for 25 years – I feel religious about the Bill of Rights, first, second, third, fourth – well, every amendment, but particularly the first amendment. I see it as the peoples last stand against a totalitarian regime.”

Thats in part because it limits the power of government as Floyd County Commonwealth Attorney Eric Branscom points out.

It was in 1791 that the first amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, became part of the Constitution. Its important to note that the first amendment and the freedoms therein are not positive rights, theyre negative rights, which means they exist as limitations on the government rather than rights granted by the government.”

And that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, making the Bill of Rights something the legal system has grappled with ever since. And so have the poets, the philosophers and musicians among us.

Heres Kim ODonnel reading a poem she wrote for the first amendment celebration:

There is no such thing as free speech. Soldiers stand and fall, arrive home in a box beneath a flag. We have been given nothing that we did not pay for.

A rich man grabs a woman against her will and she eats her rage and every word she wants to say until she is emaciated from her hunger for truth.

She speaks out and he arrives in our capital, takes an oath beneath our flag.

There is no such thing as free speech. We have been given nothing that we did not pay for.

And just because freedom of expression is protected, that doesnt mean you have to agree with or accept whatever is expressed. Over the years, the legal community has come up with this balancing act; the remedy to any speech you dont like or dont agree with is more speech.

Original Music by Michael Kovick, Silence is Complicity.

I know that things aint just what they ought to be. You and I could turn it around. When we stand up for what we believe in, first amendment rights are found and if you dont like it and you dont stand up how is anybody gonna know where you stand? I want to know. Silence is complicity.

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Celebrating the First Amendment in Floyd, VA – WVTF

Unusual fight is erupting over Georgia’s latest ‘religious liberty’ bill – Atlanta Journal Constitution

UPDATE: The attempt to shield the bill from changes failed on a 18-34 vote on the floor.

ORIGINAL POST:Georgias latest religious liberty billmay have only been introduced Wednesday in the state Senate, but the chamber has quickly signaled it will be met with a fight.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who presides over the chamber, assignedSenate Bill 233 to the powerful Rules Committee, a move that gives leadership broad rein over the bill and whether it advances in the chamber. Under normal circumstances, the bill would have likely been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but thats not what happened.

The bills sponsor, state Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, immediately countered Cagle by calling for the bill to be engrossed and protected from any changes he essentially wants to bar the Rules Committee from touching the bill.

Its an extremely unusual move. No one including Cagle (whos a former state senator) said they could remember a bill being engrossed upon introduction. The chamber is now expected to debate the merits of the request and, to a degree, the bill today on the floor.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will again have Georgias largest team covering the Legislature. Get complete daily coverage during the legislative session atmyAJC.com/georgialegislature. http://www.accessatlanta.com

Harbin was adamant thatthe bill shouldnt be changed, telling a reporter that while he knew this has never been done before, I want Georgians to have the same protection thats in federal law with no tinkering with the proposed wording.

SB 233 stops far short of the wide-ranging religious liberty bill that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year, saying it would damage the states reputation of tolerance and inclusion.

In contrast,Harbins bill says simply that the language in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act would also apply in Georgia. The federal law requires the government to prove a compelling governmental interest before it interferes with a persons exercise of religion.

To read more about the fight over religious liberty in Georgia and the history of the debate in the state Legislature,click here to read our premium story.

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Unusual fight is erupting over Georgia’s latest ‘religious liberty’ bill – Atlanta Journal Constitution

"Right to shop" bill looks to incentivize cheaper health care – Columbia Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY Health care is a lucrative business for hospitals, doctors and insurance providers. Why not patients?

That would be one result of a set of bills proposed by Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, that would make Missouri one of a handful of “right to shop” states in the country.

“Right to shop” laws aim to incentivize patients to find cheaper health care. Patients could compare costs and select a cheaper provider, and insurance companies would be required to split the difference between the initial estimate and the cheaper alternative with the patient.

“This bill would require that insurance companies share the savings with the citizens,” Frederick said.

To use an example given by Frederick during the hearing, if an insurance company planned to shell out $2,000 to a patient and the patient found a doctor who would perform the procedure for $1,000, the insurance company would cut a check for $500 to the patient.

Frederick proposed two similar bills, one focused on current and retired state employees, the other focused on all other Missouri residents.

Patients would be able to find information on cost estimates for procedures by going to the insurance providers website because the bill requires the companies to maintain payment information publicly.

Insurance companies would have to pay patients regardless of whether the service provider was in their network.

Frederick said he first heard of a similar proposal from the Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank based in Florida, while attending a conference in Chicago.

“Ive been a big fan of transparency,because Ive observed over the years that patients have a hard time finding out what the cost of a health-care service is before they consume it,” he said.

“Its kind of like going to the car dealership and he tells you, ‘Buy it, take it home, park it in your garage, and next week well tell you how much you spent.'”

One lobbyist, Jim Gwinner, spoke in favor of the proposals, but a number of lobbyists representing hospital and insurance organizations spoke out strongly against the measures.

Shannon Cooper, a lobbyist with the Missouri Insurance Coalition, said “right to shop” laws would incentivize cheaper health care too much, leading to lower-quality standards.

“When there is a cash incentive out there, some people will be driven to the lowest-cost provider. They wont take into consideration a positive outcome,” he said. “Theyll just think ‘Hey, I might get a check if I go down the street and let somebody do the procedure on me that I dont know and Ive never heard of.'”

Frederick was undeterred.

“I would just ask the committeenot (at the hearing),” he said. “People that are not here are patients, your constituents, consumers of health care. They dont have lobbyists.”

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

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"Right to shop" bill looks to incentivize cheaper health care – Columbia Missourian

Hearing to continue tomorrow; anti-gambling advocate says ‘can’t define away pieces of Constitution’ – The Spokesman-Review (blog)

TUESDAY, FEB. 21, 2017, 9:41 A.M.

Jonathan Krutz with the group Stop Predatory Gambling told the House State Affairs Committee that gambling is dangerous to people and economies. Theres an army of people behind me that are not going to come before this committee that are devastated by gambling, he said. Its certainly true that gambling has enriched the tribes, but it has done so at the expense of the local economies. Theyr not bringing new money into the economy, theyre just taking money out of the economy and putting it into a different place. Committee Vice Chair Jason Monks advised Krutz to stick to the bill.

Gambling increases crime, it increases embezzlement, it increases bankruptcy, Krutz told the committee. Theres a reason why our Constitution says that gambling is prohibited. Its having a very negative impact. People who are addicted, who cant control their gambling, theyre not there to win and theyre not there to be entertained, they go into a zone. Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, objected to the testimony on a point of order, and Monks again cautioned Krutz to address the bill. The concern that I have is that our laws are not being respected, Krutz said. Are we going to honor an Idaho statute that violates our Constitution? You cant just define away pieces of the Constitution, and thats what this statute does.

With that, the committee had run out of time for todays hearing though there still were another 10 or so people signed up to testify. Monks announced that the panel would adjourn until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, when it will continue the hearing. Only those already signed up today will be allowed to testify tomorrow; no new signups will be taken. We apologize for the inconvenience, Monks said, but this is an important issue, and I think you can see that the committee is doing a great job of doing their due diligence and asking the questions.

The House is now due on the floor for its morning session.

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Hearing to continue tomorrow; anti-gambling advocate says ‘can’t define away pieces of Constitution’ – The Spokesman-Review (blog)

Oregon’s euthanasia bill awash with ‘ambiguity’ – OneNewsNow

Oregon is considering a bill that could allow the intentional taking of lives, if those lives fit into a particular category.

“Its intent,” Gayle Atteberry of Oregon Right to Life tells OneNewsNow, “is to allow Alzheimers, mentally ill, and dementia patients who are conscious and are able to eat and swallow, to be starved and dehydrated to death. It’s a horrifying bill. I’ve never seen one like it before.”

Alex Schadenberg with the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition makes similar arguments in a recent piece written for LifeNews.com.

According to Atteberry, individuals with those types of medical conditions aren’t capable of authorizing the withholding of their own care. Concerned that passage of Senate Bill 494 would legalize what society has considered murder, Atteberry contends insurance companies are behind the measure.

“… We can only imagine the amount of money that is saved if Alzheimers patients who are not terminal die [sooner],” she says. She is convinced it’s money behind the movement to legalize euthanasia.

Doctor-assisted suicide, legalized in Oregon 20 years ago, provides the means for a person to take his or her own life. For example, patients in Oregon have been refused expensive treatments for cancer but offered less expensive pills to kill themselves.

Atteberry contends the bill now being considered is one more step down the road to euthanasia of disabled and ailing patients the actual killing of innocent persons.

Her group maintains that the bill eliminates clear legal definitions that judges need when deciding a court case. “Ambiguity, which this bill creates in numerous ways, gives everyone involved in life-and-death matters clear reign to interpret situations as they want,” says the pro-life group.

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Oregon’s euthanasia bill awash with ‘ambiguity’ – OneNewsNow