My View

Kinnaird: Laws I would have written

October 22, 2013 


I am delighted the Chapel Hill News invited me to write a column.

As an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer, I had to curb this activity when I was elected, although it would occasionally burst out uncontrollably. The editors always felt the need to identify my position, which was annoying, because I was writing as a citizen on an issue or as a reader responding to an interesting tidbit in the paper. The CHN editor has assured me I could write about anything, so I will have fun.

I am also pleased to join the excellent columnists whose writing I have enjoyed for many years. I began reading the paper in 1964 when we moved to Chapel Hill when the paper was then called the Chapel Hill Weekly. I look forward to each edition of the News to learn about the many activities and accomplishments of our townspeople.

In this column, I will start with a mop-up of some of the laws I would have written about if my legislative newsletter had continued.

The first report is on a bill that allowed billboard companies to expand the clear-cut area around their billboards from 100 feet to 250 feet. Several of us, along with environmentalists and beautification advocates, while unable to stop it, added the requirement that the billboard companies replant with small trees such as dogwoods and crepe myrtles. But to our surprise, when the rules were developed, that replanting requirement was removed, and now jagged clear cuts will spring up around billboards on our highways.

Ironically, on a drive to Asheville last month, I realized that billboards are unnecessary in this age of smartphones where a traveler can find restaurants, hotels, beds and breakfasts, and tourist attractions in any area in the state. Does this technology mean that businesses will no longer buy billboard space and we will be stuck with empty, aging, sagging billboards marring our landscape? Years ago, Lady Bird Johnson persuaded Congress to prohibit billboards within 400 feet of interstate highways to preserve our country’s beauty. Industry lobbyists – being what they are, purchasers of congresspersons – were able to remove that requirement, and the billboards sprang up all over. South of the Border, anyone?

In the 1990s, Orange County tried to prohibit billboards from I-40 in Orange County to the coast. A very powerful business advocate killed our bill. He shamelessly admitted that a bypass parkway named after him prohibits billboards. But maybe someday, the billboards will all rot away thanks to smartphones, and all we will see are cell towers to mar the view.

Midwife certification

Another bill I worked on for years was a certification of lay midwives in response to the many people throughout the state who want home births. Each year the bill was introduced, it had widespread support with thousands of mothers and their children who were born at home walking the halls of the legislature to advocate for it. The midwives would be required to achieve the highest education and certification standards.

In Europe and the U.K. almost all babies are born with midwives and medical doctors are only used in emergencies or difficult births. Certified nurse-midwives practice throughout the state, including at UNC and Duke hospitals, but they are limited by having to practice under the supervision of an M.D. Only six other states require this supervision. When an M.D. discontinues supervision, the nurse midwife cannot practice, leaving families without their choice of care. We had hoped to remove that supervision requirement as is the case in all but six states.

Many women in rural areas do not have access to prenatal care such that we rank 44th in the nation in infant mortality and 37th in maternal mortality with half of our counties having three or fewer obstetricians, 31 counties having none, and 46 counties with no certified nurse-midwives. The Institute of Medicine reported midwife care improves primary health care services for women in rural and inner-city areas and recommends removing this barrier. The American College of Nurse-Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists support both professions with standards for education and certification. It would also greatly reduce health care costs. The shortage of obstetricians in many areas of the state will only get worse under the new health care changes, which will require many more primary care professionals.

So why doesn’t this bill pass year after year?

Because the United States with its capitalist, monopolist health care system has taken that option away from families and midwives. Every year the Medical Society opposes the bills and is able to defeat them, all the while complaining they will be put out of business by lawsuits. This is a good solution. Let’s let families choose an effective, safe option for childbirth.

Ellie Kinnaird, former state senator and mayor of Carrboro, is the mother of three sons and a grandmother of three. She also worked as a legal services lawyer and, later, in private practice. She can be reached at

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