As the Phoenix-headquartered Goldwater Institute approaches the 30th anniversary of its founding, it remains committed to high altitude thinking of making sure all levels of government adhere to the U.S Constitution – and to limited interference in the lives of individuals.
But that doesn't mean the public policy think tank neglects to focus on issues at the state level, the institute’s president, Victor Riches, told the Arizona Business Daily.
“As far as the issue most important to the institute at the sort of 30,000-feet level, we want to make sure that the government at all levels adheres to the constitution,” Riches said.
The institute’s staff is busy at the courthouses and legislative levels across the country, arguing on issues related to that core principle and about personal freedom.
At a federal level, that means the institute is involved in such efforts as in the “right to try” initiative that would allow more flexibility for terminally ill patients to get access to experimental drugs. And its staff partners with like-minded advocates in other states to push state legislation with the goal of working up to make changes in Washington D.C.
But there are specific issues that the institute is involved in right now in Arizona, said Riches, who also chief operating officer of the organization set up in 1988 with the backing of the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. Former U.S. Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. remains on the board of directors.
There are a number of bills before the Arizona Legislature addressing the institute’s priorities, Riches said.
“One of the issues is universal education savings accounts,” he said. “We want to give all Arizona students access to the same quality education.”
Education savings accounts (ESAs), where funds are funneled into personal accounts to be used as needed, can currently be utilized by a portion of the population, most notably the families of special needs children.
SB 1281, championed by the institute, clarifies certain rules regarding the accounts, with the aim of making them easier to set up and manage.
But there is also a much more ambitious bill to expand the program and make the accounts available to all students and their families.
Another priority for the institute is occupation licensing, which Riches said he and the institute want to see “rolled back.” The argument is that, in many cases, these are onerous regulations that stifle entrepreneurship with little health and public safety benefits. It often works as a protection racket aimed at generating revenue, and one backed by both Republicans and Democrats at state level, Riches said.
The institute also is continuing to work in health care freedom issues, Riches said.
In that spirit, the institute is backing legislation that addresses off-label drugs. “We want to make it easier for doctors and patients to get the right information, which currently cannot be shared by the pharmaceutical companies,” Riches said.
Doctors can prescribe medicines to patients, even if their use for that purpose is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This is called off label. But federal law prohibits pharmaceutical companies from sharing information on off-label uses.
The Arizona House unanimously passed HB 2382, which allows pharmaceutical companies to share that information with doctors. It was unanimously passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee March 8 and is likely to pass quickly in a full Senate vote.
But any state legislation is likely to face problems butting up against federal law, with national pharmaceutical companies cautious about becoming involved in going head-to-head with the FDA.
For Riches, the fact the institute is based in Arizona is important. “It is our home,” he said. “and this state should be the leader in these free market and individual rights efforts.”