JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rep. Joe Don McGaugh hopes a piece of legislation that has been heard in the House for the last seven years will finally make it into law.
HB 113 would require county commissions and county health boards or departments to be in concurrence when a new rule is made, except in case of health emergencies. Under current law, county health departments have a lot of leeway in establishing certain health ordinances, regulations and orders; the only real restriction is that new rules cannot conflict with existing ones.
County commissions often are made up of politicians and civic leaders, oftentimes with experience in business and industry, while health boards are made up of doctors, nurses, dentists and other medical professionals. McGaugh says his bill will create a necessary congruence between county commissions and health boards to create good health policy.
“These decisions are important for public health and the economic development of counties as well, so it makes sense to put those issues in one basket,” McGaugh said. “Just like what the House and the Senate does with the checks and balances, we’re just trying to put some checks and balances into it.”
Many of the state’s agricultural groups, like the Missouri Cattlemans Association, Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Soybean Association supported the measure at a House Local Government Committee hearing Wednesday. Many health ordinances directly affect the agricultural industry.
As a senator, former Attorney General Chris Koster carried similar legislation almost a decade ago.
However, the law also faced substantial opposition from county commissioners and health department officials who testified. Kelly Vollmar, the director of Jefferson County Health Department, said McGaugh’s bill could unnecessarily politicize health decisions.
“When a nonpartisan organization has to be in concert with a partisan organization on why they may vote for it or not, then you’re putting public health at risk,” she said, adding medical decisions to protect the public health needed to be made by medical experts.
On the other hand, McGaugh says nothing currently stops those health rules from being politicized, and rules currently promulgated by either an elected health board or an elected county commission could be just as easily politicized.
The hearing did not finish as of press time after the committee ran long.