CHARLESTON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – Calling it the “Ban on Public Health Bill,” Boone County Democrat Senator Ron Stollings and others spoke out today in opposition to Senate Bill 12.
Despite Republicans retaining a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, Stollings said he felt the bill would have been defeated in committee if “the chairman had not had a Republican caucus” that swayed all GOP member’s votes. For the bill.” Democrats on the committee unanimously opposed it.
At the heart of the bill is a decades-long debate about the power of county and state boards of health. Republicans generally argue that boards of health are not elected and are not accountable to the public.
Essentially, SB12 would put local elected officials, such as county commissioners, ultimately in charge of health decisions.
Democrats, like Stollings, argue that boards of health are uniquely qualified to deal with health issues, unlike county commissioners who may have no particular expertise in that regard.
The Boone Senator said he and his fellow Democrats fear that “public health issues will be politicized. That should never happen.”
Stollings, a practicing physician in Madison, said smoking in restaurants and other public places would not have been banned without health boards.
“They (Boards of Health) studied the available data and did the right thing for public health. Some elected officials would never have done that for fear of losing a vote.”
Stollings said, “the fear is that if this bill passes, we’ll go right back to all the unhealthy practices of the past.”
The Senator said many county commissioners and city council members oppose local political control.
“They know the present system works better than any we’ve ever had before. Why take a step back?”
Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said the bill would be detrimental to public health in an interview with WVNS-TV.
“Local boards of health are protected under the statute to implement good, strong health policies. If you put that ownership back on county commissions, then that same protections and those policies don’t exist anymore,” Puckett said.
“Basically whatever the county board of health says is the way that the policy is going to be written in that particular county. If this goes through, this will allow additional oversight by county commissions that could override that,” said Puckett.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a human rights issue. This is something that we should be doing to protect everyone, no matter what party you’re from. No matter anything that you do, you should be protecting your public,” said Puckett.
Republican Senator Mike Maroney of Marshall County is the lead sponsor of the bill. Maroney is also a radiologist.