Bill brings more oversight on local health departments |

Bill brings more oversight on local health departments

Gina Barker, The Park Record

As the Utah Legislature enters its final days, bills have fleshed out and legislators have toned down, compromised or clarified the political jargon to see the measure pass. H.B. 313 "Local Health Regulation," which addressed issues with health department regulations, was exception.

The bill first drew attention when county health departments speculated what the implications of the bill may be, mainly that local health departments would be rendered powerless. Specifically, boards of health would not be able to create any rules stricter than state or federal regulations already in place.

"Our primary concern before related to us not being able to take any action," said Richard Bullough, executive director of the Summit County Health Department. "With its new language, if no state or federal policy is in place, a local level can act.

"To some extent, my fears have been lessened by that fact."

The rewritten legislation still prevents any local health department from creating any regulations that are stricter than state or federal guidelines, but does allow local health departments to create codes and standards as long as the state and federal levels have not addressed the issue and also allows the departments to take action in the cases of emergencies. But that’s not changing how Bullough feels.

"I am still opposed to bill," he said. "It’s not good legislation."

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"The important thing is that a lot of public health policy begins at the local level," Bullough added. "It’s where policy starts, where problems are first seen. It begins at a local clinic and is elevated to the state and federal level."

Rep. John Anderson (R-Taylorsville), sponsor of H.B. 313, feels differently. Anderson sponsored the legislation for businesses, which he said may have to conform from county to county to make sure all the proper codes are met.

"We have so many industries regulated through local health departments: restaurants, cafes, childcare and medical facilities. I want to ensure that health department regulations will remain as consistent as possible across the state."

The problem with what Anderson wants to accomplish is that local health departments are already doing just that, Bullough said. Health departments already try to meet state and federal standards whenever possible rather than reinvent the wheel.

"In essence, what that means is this legislation isn’t needed," he said. "The legislation not needed and not warranted. We can still do our work and protect public health because the bill won’t stop us, but it won’t enhance what we do in any way."

What the bill could hinder if passed is policy regarding health concerns that may be more pressing in only a handful of counties.

"Our first goal is to meet state policy," he said. "That’s the way we typically act. We were fearful we would not be able to act on tanning beds or hookahs or some other entity that we feel is a public health threat."

If the state were to pass guidelines that a local level disagreed with, the legislation would force local levels to comply with state regulations.

Sen. John Valentine (R-Orem) co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate, which was circled and is currently awaiting a vote, after passing in the House last week with a count of 62-6. Anderson said he fully expects the legislation to pass in the Senate.