John Laird backs child health care

Keeping children healthy is a practical, financial and ultimately “profound moral” issue, according to a candidate for state Senate, and the state government should work to make sure youngsters have access to health care, including mental health and oral care.

John Laird, a Democrat running for the vacant 15th state Senate District seat in an Aug. 17 special election, made the remarks in response to a questionnaire sent to the four candidates by First 5 San Luis Obispo County.

First 5 is co-sponsoring a debate Monday evening at Cuesta College along with the League of Women Voters, the SLO County Office of Education, the SLO County P-16 Council, the Children Services Network and The Tribune.

Hinkle, Fitzgerald and Laird have confirmed that they will be present. Blakeslee will not.

With its chief focus on the well-being of children between birth and 5 years old, First 5 asked specific questions of Laird, Libertarian Mark Hinkle, Republican Sam Blakeslee and Independent Jim Fitzgerald of Nipomo.

Blakeslee and Hinkle declined to respond, and Fitzgerald gave truncated answers because, he said, the campaign season is short and he is not well-funded like the major party candidates.

Nonetheless, Fitzgerald did tell First 5 that “the children are the future of California,” adding, “Let’s not let anyone reduce the investment in (that) future.”

He wrote: “Educating the children of our state to be productive members of our community is my Number One concern,” and added, “We need teachers who can inspire and motivate the children.”

Of the four candidates, Laird provided the most thorough answers to the First 5 questionnaire, which also touched on education.

Laird has been making a campaign issue out of the need for education reform in the Legislature, and he held an event Wednesday at a school in San Luis Obispo, accompanied by county Superintendent of Schools Julian Crocker and other local education leaders.

Laird, who wants to reverse cuts to public education, said the state budget is more than two weeks late and lamented that California has dropped from 46th to 47th in the nation on per pupil funding.

He proposed an oil extraction tax to help fund education in California. “We are the only oil-producing state in the nation without such a tax,” he said.

In the First 5 questionnaire, Laird, a former assemblyman, said he wrote legislation designed to assure that “all children receive and have access to primary and preventive health services.”

“Preventive care,” he added, “should prevent larger health treatment costs for uninsured children, but untreated dental and other health concerns are impediments to school attendance and learning. It is a profound moral issue.”

On other questions, Laird said:

• He supports expanding preschool programs, but added that “California will probably have to come out of the economic downturn to be able to address this (financially).”

• Protecting funds for younger children with special needs must be looked at in a larger context. “I do not think that an assurance can be made that these services will be protected unless the total budget is fixed,” he wrote.

The Monday forum will begin at 7 p.m. at the Cuesta College student center. Its focus will be “geared toward children, youth and families, especially on issues of education, health and safety,” according to First 5 executive director Susan K. Hughes.

The forum will be replayed on Charter Communications’ education access channel 19 and government access channel 21.

The state Senate seat became vacant when Abel Maldonado resigned in May after being appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Absentee ballots for the Aug. 17 election were mailed July 19 and have already begun to trickle back in to the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office. There are other debates scheduled, including at least one in early August, but many voters may have already cast their ballots by that time.

Candidates forum

What: Candidates forum, 15th state Senate District

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Cuesta College student center