While a bill limiting voter access in Georgia made national news this week, West Virginia has its share of bad legislating going on as well.
Approved by Gov. Jim Justice on March 16, Senate Bill 12 and House Bill 2536 give county commissions more control over local boards of health than they’ve ever had.
From the onset of their introduction in the 2021 Legislature, both bills were opposed by county health departments, county commissioners, former lawmakers and even the Coalition for Tobacco-Free West Virginia said the bill is simply bad for public health.
The bill requires county commissions in West Virginia to approve new rules, or changes in old ones, by local health departments, except in cases of public health emergencies. In other words, the new law will remove any authority previously held by local boards of health.
Local health departments in West Virginia will now become political playing fields and important decisions that involve people’s lives will now be made by elected politicians rather than boards of health who are usually comprised of people who have a working knowledge and/or training in health care, safety or sanitation.
The new law, which goes into effect on June 2, also gives county commissioners the authority to dismiss a board of health member, which has previously only fallen under the purview of the board of health.
We believe it is simply unfair whenever politicians think they have the right answers and are more knowledgeable about a subject or an industry than those running the industry. This legislation is an attempt to steal power from those who should really be in charge.
The oddest part of this law is that both parties involved — the health departments and the county commissions — are on the record statewide saying “We oppose this bill.” Lawmakers obviously did not listen.
Marion County Health Department Administrator Lloyd White said in early March that the bill is bad lawmaking.
“Public health has got to be shielded from politics,” White said.
He said, until this bill came along, the health department has had total latitude to pass any policy that impacts public health. In Marion County, patrons can smoke in bars and video lottery facilities.
“We chose to have a policy that we thought was enforceable,” said White.
Another county health department administrator in West Virginia said, “Apparently our legislators know more about running county commissions and county health departments than we do.”
We believe the experts should be allowed to do their jobs and not usurped by a political machine that has an ulterior motive.
“When you get politics involved with public health policy then the outcome may not be good,” said White.
When bad laws are passed, usually bad things happen.
And while these bills have been signed into law, we urge our lawmakers to think harder about what’s coming up on the agenda as the end of the session arrives.
West Virginia can’t afford any more bad legislation.