It is almost getting tiring to say, but kudos to Rep. Knute Buehler.
And, at some point, an elected official acting on his best judgment and breaking from traditional political party dogma will not be news. But, for the time being, when Democrats and Republicans are expected to follow the party's playbook for most social issues, Rep. Buehler is acting as a free agent—and, as such, truly representing Central Oregon in his first term in the Oregon House.
Why are we so surprised? He told us he would be, and do, exactly this.
When Buehler campaigned last year, he proudly stated his afflation with the Republican Party, but also went out of his way to identify his political positions that differ from the political party's traditional platform. Moreover, he promised to think and vote independently from his party and to set his own course. A month ago, he was the only Republican on the Health Care Committee to support HB 2307, a bill that sought to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, a "treatment" that tries to force gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth to become straight, and which has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That stance was notable for its independence, and for announcing his ability to stand by his moral and scientific convictions.
But last week, Rep. Buehler was even more forthright, and added a specific proposal that, at first blush, would seem counter to many of the prevailing winds of the Republican Party: On Wednesday, Rep. Buehler added a specific proposal to House Bill 2028 that would allow pharmacists to distribute birth control over the counter. That bill, HB 2028 already is structured to give more authority to Oregon pharmacists; Rep. Buehler's proposal gives the specific ability for pharmacists to distribute birth control.
The proposal in notable for a couple reasons: First, it is simple and fair. Yet, it is also controversial. At the federal and state levels, many conservatives have lambasted the Affordable Care Act. It has been one of the most heated battle lines between political parties. However, even though a Republican, Rep. Buehler's proposal bolsters one of the more controversial issues within the Affordable Care Act—that is, the requirement that insurance companies cover contraceptives prescribed by a woman's doctor. By bypassing a requirement for a doctor's prescription, Rep. Buehler provides even greater access to such contraceptives for women.
Rep. Buehler's proposal is also notable because it does what the Affordable Care Act strives to do; that is, it helps eliminate expenses for patients and clears doctors' schedules for tasks that can't be handled elsewhere. With medical costs increasing, eliminating cumbersome bureaucracy—like setting up doctor's appointments and health care insurance approval systems—truly does help make health care more affordable.
Moreover, Rep. Buehler also does what lawmaking should do: Borrow from best-practices elsewhere (California currently permits this same allowance), and build from previous successes (12 years ago, the Oregon legislature allowed pharmacists to provide vaccinations and there have been no problems as a result).
Even though the proposal is simple, it has the potential to be controversial—and we applaud Rep. Buehler for following a course that he believes is the best idea, rather than an idea that may earn him support, or simply take a course of neutral or no action.