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Utah Latino legislators speak out on Medicaid expansion, goals for political participation

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 2:10 p.m. MST

Sen. Luz Robles speaks during a press conference regarding the growing Hispanic population during the Legislature at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Sen. Luz Robles speaks during a press conference regarding the growing Hispanic population during the Legislature at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and three fellow Latino legislators — all Democrats — reinforced their desire for a full expansion of Medicaid and discussed bills they're sponsoring during a news conference Wednesday at the Capitol.

“I think it’s a travesty. It’s immoral on many levels that so many of our individuals in the state of Utah have no access to health care because the Legislature is sitting on this,” said Robles, Senate minority caucus manager.

Utah lawmakers who favor Medicaid expansion are in a “tough place,” she said.

“There’s a lot of talking but no action," Robles said. "I think the Senate is a friendly place to make sure we move toward Medicaid expansion. The problem is the House."

She called it “unfortunate” that readily accessible money isn’t being utilized.

Rep. Angela Romero speaks during a press conference regarding the growing Hispanic population during the Legislature at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Rep. Angela Romero speaks during a press conference regarding the growing Hispanic population during the Legislature at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

States that have moved forward with the expansion have seen great strides in Latinos accessing the health care they need, said House Minority Assistant Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City.

Chavez-Houck said the expansion would make a big difference for the health outcomes of the Latino community.

“We’re pushing as hard as we can, but we understand this is a numbers game, and we’re outnumbered,” Robles said.

The Utah State Democratic Hispanic Caucus has goals this year to get more Hispanics and Latinos involved in the political process.

“We’re helping them become delegates, helping them to stay involved, helping them to get involved in campaigns,” said Paula Espinoza-Wells, caucus chairwoman.

She said the caucus is also helping Utah's Latino population with voter registration and supporting Latino candidates, as well as running for office.

“We are reaching out to all of our diverse groups in our community, making sure that everyone feels included (and) … that the issues and concerns that affect various diverse communities are addressed at the Legislature. And we do that through our Latino representatives," said Josie Valdez, vice chairwoman of the Utah Democratic Party.

The legislators spoke of their efforts to represent their communities, particularly the Latino population of Utah. They presented a range of bills dealing with everything from pets to tax liens for seniors, from education for veterans to lunch periods for government employees.

They said they're looking forward to a diversity day March 7, which they've been organizing with other minority caucuses.

“We want our voices heard,” Espinoza-Wells said. “Our voter registration … to get more Latinos involved will help because our voices will be heard because we’ll have lots of voices to be heard.”

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