The good news

On this last day of 2015, instead of lamenting more tax cuts for billionaires or the relentless attempts to ruin public education in Nevada with a voucher system that rewards those with the most resources, we offer a glass-half-full approach to our persistent challenges.

The good news in 2015 is even a “do nothing” Congress was able to produce a unanimous vote in the Senate for the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. The bill reauthorizes the successful Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act to improve responses to people with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.

The legislation continues support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams, expands services to veterans, enhances training of police and first responders and allocates resources for prison and jail-based programs. As Franken points out, the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population largely “because we have criminalized mental illness, using our justice system as a substitute for a fully functioning mental health system.”

Is it too much to hope that the House of Representatives will approve this bill early in 2016?

As the year closes in Nevada, we celebrate the slow upward trend in health statistics, forged by a decade of aggressive prevention approaches which are finally producing results.

Back in 2007 when the centralized immunization registry was created over the objections of the paranoid right, Nevada ranked 49th in the nation in the number of 2-year-olds who were fully immunized. By 2013, our ranking had improved to 48th, a step in the right direction although hardly a status other states would proudly proclaim.

When the statistics from the 2014 National Immunization Survey were revealed, child advocates were ecstatic to see Nevada now ranks 38th in the nation for fully immunized children, ages 19 to 35 months. Immunize Nevada, the Nevada State Immunization Program, and county health districts all deserve credit for working together to educate health care providers, parents, policy-makers and the community about the importance of vaccinations. Our children are healthier and getting a better start in life thanks to their efforts.

Nevada was also ranked 38th among the states for overall health, according to the 2015 annual report from the United Health Foundation. We were ranked 48th back in 2010. The report cited a decrease in smoking and cancer deaths as factors leading to improvement along with increased immunizations and fewer preventable hospitalizations.

What’s holding us back? Our increasing rate of children in poverty coupled with increasing rates of violent crime (we ranked 48th), drug deaths (47th), a stubbornly low high school graduation rate (48th), and our worst-in-the-nation spending on public health, just $33 per person. Hawaii invests far more in public health, allocating $227 per person. Imagine the improvements in Nevada if we doubled or tripled our public health spending.

Finally, let’s celebrate the transformational public policy wins for progressives this year. In Nevada, a Republican-led majority in the Legislature passed Gov. Brian Sandoval’s commerce tax, targeting the big box stores instead of small businesses. The new dollars will fund priorities that Republicans dismissed for decades—full-day kindergarten and targeted programs for English language learners and children in poverty. This victory belongs to the progressive political leaders and advocates who tirelessly made the case for corporate taxes and investments in education for many long years leading up to this moment.

And what year-end wrap up could fail to mention the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision in favor of marriage equality? In the end, love always wins.