Thursday, June 21, 2007

Child protection law comes at a cost

It's hard to argue against the idea that all children should receive eye screenings before they attend school, and now thanks to a bill signed into law today by Governor Matt Blunt, that will be the case.

But there were some people who argued against the idea during the past legislative session and they made some compelling points:

The Missouri Association of School Nurses noted that the screenings that are already in place catch nearly all vision problems, while the new required examinations will cost Missourians an estimated $2.4 to $7 million.

The burden of this new bill will be on parents who cannot afford the $100 to $165 cost of a comprehensive examination, which must be done by a licensed optometrist.

While I don't question the sincerity of Sen. Delbert Scott, the sponsor of the bill, it is very easy to question the necessity of the bill, and note one of the reasons why the bill passed the legislature by a wide margin.

Missouri Ethics Commission documents show the Missouri Optometric Association has been extremely generous with its donations to legislators' campaign accounts.

In the April quarterly report, the group's contributions included $4,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, $1,500 to the Senate Majority Fund, $1,000 to the Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee, $1,500 to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, and $1,275 to Rep. Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

The January report included then maximum $1,275 contributions to the senate leadership funds of Republicans Michael Gibbons and Charlie Shields and Democrat Jeff Harris and a $650 maximum contribution to Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield. Ms. Champion was the chairman of the Seniors, Families, and Public Health Committee, which handled Senate Bill 16.

The organization's October 2006 disclosure document indicates $18,290 was spread around to representatives and senators from both parties, with the largest amount, $500 going to Sen. Scott.

On the January 2006 disclosure document, in addition to numerous contributions to individual legislators, the association gave $10,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee and $2,500 to the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

The Nurses Association notes that a better option might have been to either require the vision exams at age four, or better yet, require complete physical examinations that might uncover vision and other problems.

It is hard to argue with the idea of children undergoing examinations that might prevent them from having future problems in school and life, but it appears in this case, a highly organized lobbying group, whose members stand to benefit financially from this legislation, has done its job well.

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