An Insane Legislative Wishlist (Part 1)
The pandemic exposed enormous gaps and problems in how we manage emergencies and public policy. It's time to start addressing that.
Election Day 2022 is still 5 months away, but it seems inevitable that there will be a fairly heavy swing in favor of the Republican party, both in the national mood and in state races.
If you were looking for a positive reason for this, I couldn’t give you one. The actual legislative strategy for the GOP seems opaque. The electoral swing seems like it will be entirely a result of anger and frustration with the policies of the Democrats and the direction of the country (cough, gas prices, cough) rather than anything positive.
This strikes me as such a shame. This is the first national post-COVID election, and this pandemic has given us a chance to see a wide range of policies. We’ve gotten to see the costs and benefits of these policies and now is the perfect time to address the shortcomings of these policies with a series of state and national reforms.
I’m not a lawyer and my reform proposals are routinely unworkable. But I believe that reform has to start somewhere and simply elucidating these ideas may be valuable as a way of reflecting a core ideal from which we can develop coherent and functional legislative reform.
With that caveat, here are some things I would like to see our state and national legislatures fight about over the next few years.
1. Patient’s Rights in a Hospital Setting
Every story I hear about the long-term patient experience during COVID fills me with dread.
When the pandemic first started, I donated to a local hospital so nurses could buy phone charging cords for their patients, who couldn’t communicate with their families after their phones ran out of batteries. We’ve heard about patients who lingered in intensive care for weeks without any visitors and people who had to say goodbye to their families over FaceTime.
This was not acceptable at any point. This was a rejection of basic human dignity and it is entirely appropriate to tell hospitals that they will not be permitted to do this.
Hospital visitation is only one component of this. Women were forced to mask up while they were giving birth, newborns were isolated from their parents based on COVID status. Many hospitals completely re-aligned their mission from patient care to focus on nothing more than viral reduction. To their great shame, many hospitals failed even at this, with medical workers routinely contracting COVID and neither testing nor isolating because the hospital needed workers to keep running, even if they were spreading the virus to their patients.
Every hospital needs to do a thorough review of its pandemic policies with a critical eye. States need to take a close look at our critical health infrastructure and persuade them to re-align their policies to favor the dignity of their patients, even in the face of historic pandemics.
2. Reining in Executive Emergency Powers
There is an important place and time for emergency powers. There are times and events when the government needs to move with speed and purpose that is simply not possible from the legislative branch. Emergency powers are an important doctrine.
However, during the pandemic, many state governors applied emergency powers to act as dictators over the minutia of state policies, unhindered by any legislative or judicial check. Even two years into the pandemic, California governor Gavin Newsom retains complete restrictive control over the California policy.
This is not acceptable in a representative democracy. We need sweeping legislative reform that severely erodes the emergency powers of the executive branch on both a national and state level. I’m delighted to see Virginia taking its first steps in that direction.
Every state needs to work on this. Emergency powers, once invoked, are a siren call to politicians on both the right and the left. The ability to shape policy and impact people’s lives should be set close to a place of direct accountability. There should be many paths, both legislative and judicial, to shoot down state restrictions that are implemented through these emergency actions.
3. Business Equality
This idea does not have any pending legislation or proposal to which I can point, but it derives from a conversation I had with a store owner a few months ago. I was talking about how much I enjoyed her place (a lovely shop of teas and spices) and we got to talking about what it was like in the worst moments of the pandemic.
She said that she had closed down for a week or so and was agitating to open back up. She was told that her store was not considered an essential service, but the Wal-Mart down the street was. This was because Wal-Mart has a grocery store in it, but Wal-Mart was not limited to selling groceries. They could sell tea and spices while she could not. They could sell electronics when Best Buy could not. They could sell clothing when the boutique clothiers could not.
I want to see something that I call the “Wal-Mart Rule,” which will state explicitly that closing businesses is an all-or-nothing proposition. If Wal-Mart is open, everyone is open. If Amazon can continue fulfilling orders, anyone who is in competition with Amazon can continue to do the same.
The pandemic was a nightmare for small businesses and a great boon to giant corporations, and it’s clear that at least some of this was due to lobbying efforts made by those big box stores. We should never have tolerated such favoritism and we should explicitly codify our laws against these injustices.
Disney Shorts: The Band Concert
Note: I’m on vacation this week and have very limited internet access, which has made it impossible for me to view my cache of Disney cartoons. For this reason, I’m going back to the very first cartoon I reviewed over 2 years ago.
The Band Concert is the very first color Mickey Mouse cartoon. This was a big deal. Disney had been first to release a synchronized sound cartoon with Steamboat Willie and he had been the first to release a color animated short* with the lavish Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees in 1932, a full 7 years before Wizard of Oz. Silly Symphonies had been making color cartoons for a couple years, but they never kept the same characters and Mickey Mouse was beloved, the shining star of the young company.
Disney chose the “performance” genre for The Band Concert. Having Mickey Mouse perform plays or music was a well worn path (The Orphan’s Benefit, Mickey’s Gala Premiere, Mickey’s Mellerdrammer, Mickey’s Revue, The Barnyard Broadcast, Blue Rhythm… the list goes on and on) but it was a favorite of Disney’s because he loved music and he loved and excuse to run his cartoons to the background of classical music. I think he felt there was a beauty in joining the high-art of classical music with the low-art of slapstick comedy and animation was the perfect venue for that marriage.
What is really fun about The Band Concert is that we get Mickey before Walt Disney sanitized him into a nice guy who never does anything wrong. Here we get a Mickey who fumbles around, breaks Donald’s flute, and gets cross with his orchestra. The visual gags don’t out-stay their welcome, there’s always a new one just around the corner. And the music is just glorious.
* don’t bother me with the argument that Ub Iwerks beat him to color, Iwerks was too eager to be the “first” and settled for the murky two tone Technicolor process while Disney held out for the much richer three tone Technicolor.