Jackson County MO reflects on new public health regulations
Jackson County is considering whether to adopt its own set of rules for handling health emergencies after a court ruling last fall overturned state regulations the county relied on to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county has the power to do so under its constitutional charter of autonomy. But some members of the county legislature on Monday expressed concerns about the proposal as it is currently drafted, and the Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt took to Twitter as lawmakers met and threatened a legal challenge in a series of tweets.
“This proposed ordinance that I just read in Jackson County, Missouri is really crazy,” Schmitt said from his personal Twitter account. “It essentially grants unilateral authority to the Jackson County Health Department. This would essentially create a dictatorship of public health. “
County lawmakers Tony Miller and Jeanie Lauer said they feared the ordinance gave too much power to the county health director to order businesses to shut down and enforce quarantines.
But the county administration and the sponsors of the proposed regulatory framework, lawmakers Jalen Anderson and Crystal Williams, said the ordinance was not excessive. He generously borrows from health regulations that Kansas City, which also has self-governing powers, has on its books and was unaffected by the Cole County court ruling.
Much of the proposal’s requirements are also no different from what Jackson County followed before the court ruling, Acting Health Director Ray Dlugolecki said.
“There is no new authority,” he said.
The Legislative Assembly’s health and environment committee will discuss the ordinance on January 18. To pave the way for a possible switchover, Williams and Anderson said they were open to changing the ordinance ahead of this meeting, addressing concerns raised by several of their colleagues at Monday’s meeting of the Whole House. nine-member board of directors.
Miller expressed the most detailed list of concerns about the proposal’s lack of provisions giving people a way to challenge decisions that would impede their freedom or movement, or their ability to conduct business in areas of the county where regulations would apply. All except Kansas City and Independence, which have their own health services, would be affected.
“The average person who’s going to read this, uh, that sounds a little on the expensive side,” he said.
The lack of these due process rights also affected Lauer and lawmaker Theresa Galvin. They agreed with Miller that, perhaps, it would be a good idea to create a health advisory board that could be a control over the decisions of the director of public health in the future.
“It’s a lot of authority to give to one person,” said Galvin.
Dlugolecki said doing nothing could put the public at risk later. Thanks to the Cole County decision, the county health department is now powerless to isolate someone who could infect others with deadly diseases like Ebola or tuberculosis, if they refuse the quarantine, did he declare.
Anderson urged his colleagues to look beyond current concerns about COVID-19 and the highly politicized environment that has plagued public health policy discourse.
“I think what’s critical as we move forward,” Anderson said, “is that we don’t just tie this legislation to the idea of masks, and we don’t just tie that to what we are. are facing today. This is a discussion of the powers of our Department of Health and our Directors of Health and this government as a whole in the area of public health. “
Separately, the county appealed a procedural decision last month that barred it from appealing the Cole County court ruling. Judge Daniel Green did not allow Jackson County and four other local health departments to intervene as he said they were not direct parties to the lawsuit which effectively prevented many local jurisdictions from imposing penalties. health restrictions.