Fallin explains her alternative to health-care law, endorses ability of cities to set own smoking regulations
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Tuesday, February 05, 2013
2/05/13 at 7:16 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY - Gov. Mary Fallin rolled out details of her "Oklahoma Plan" alternative to the federal health-care law on Monday, including her endorsement of a plan to let cities pass smoking restrictions that are more stringent than state law.
"Our current national health-care system is, in fact, a 'sick-care' system that is actually contributing to our problems," Fallin said in her State of the State speech. "Rather than encouraging healthy living and wellness, it waits to provide expensive treatment to people who are already sick, driving up health-care costs."
In the speech, Fallin reiterated her opposition to accepting federal Affordable Care Act funding to expand the state's Medicaid program, which would mean health-care coverage for some 180,000 Oklahomans with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost of new benefits for the first three years.
Instead, she began rolling out details of her Oklahoma Plan, which would include funding for several previously announced initiatives and the smoking-restriction proposal.
Although allowing cities to step up anti-smoking efforts has previously been rejected by the Legislature, Fallin has not previously added her weight to the effort.
Smoking is "the state's No. 1 killer," said Fallin, who pointed out that her father died of a smoking-related heart attack when he was 57 years old.
When Pueblo, Colo., implemented a tobacco ban in local taverns and restaurants, the city saw a dramatic reduction in smoking and smoking-related illness, and the city's heart attack rate dropped more than 30 percent, Fallin said.
"The families in cities and towns across Oklahoma deserve that same opportunity," Fallin said. "If communities want to take action to improve the health of their citizens, they should be able to do it."
State law prohibits smoking in most indoor workplaces, including restaurants and hotels, but allows smoking rooms if they have separate ventilation systems designed to prevent smoke from going into other parts of the building. There are also several exemptions from the state law, including bars, private clubs and bingo halls.
This is the second time Fallin has used her State of the State address to launch an effort against tobacco use. In last year's speech, she announced an executive order banning the use of tobacco on state property.
Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, a physician and longtime backer of the local option, said he welcomed Fallin's support.
Beyond the health issues, Cox said a philosophical one - local control - is involved.
Anyone who supports the idea of allowing local governments to make decisions on local issues instead of having mandates imposed from above should support the proposal, he said.
Pat Marshall, Oklahoma government relations director for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network, urged legislators to agree to Fallin's proposal.
"Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air," Marshall said. "City councils throughout Oklahoma recognize this and want to protect their citizens but can't do anything about it until the Oklahoma Legislature acts."
Last month, the Sand Springs City Council voted unanimously to endorse allowing more restrictive regulations, becoming the 10th community to pass such a resolution. Other communities backing the effort are Oklahoma City, Seminole, Tahlequah, Muskogee, Elk City, Hulbert, Prague, Clinton and Cordell.
Jim Hopper, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, said his group would continue to resist local control of smoking regulations, although it doesn't oppose tighter smoking regulation.
The restaurant group wants one set of rules for the entire state so that people who have multiple-location operations don't have to keep track of a broad variety of regulations.
"Tell us what the rules are and apply them statewide, and we're fine," Hopper said. "This issue is not about smoking for us. It's about uniformity."
In states such as California with local authority to regulate smoking, "it's a nightmare," he said.
Ed Lynn, who operates Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in Oklahoma City, Muskogee and Enid, pointed out that a few years ago the Legislature overwhelmingly approved a law that restricts local control of health codes because of the need for uniformity, and he said that same rationale should apply to smoking.
"We've got to have a consistent set of rules," Lynn said. Otherwise, "you could very easily have one set of rules on one side of the street and another set of rules on the other side."
Gov. Mary Fallin's "Oklahoma Plan" alternative to the Affordable Care Act would:
Allow local governments to pass more restrictive tobacco regulations than the state has.
Provide funding to improve infant mortality rates.
Provide funding for mental health programs to assist children with mental health needs, a third state crisis center, suicide prevention and prescription drug abuse.
Study state alternatives to providing health-care coverage for uninsured Oklahomans without using Affordable Care Act Medicaid funding.
Original Print Headline: Fallin details her alternative to health law
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin delivers her State of the State address in the House of Representatives at the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City on Monday. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World