Nebraska health services committee hears input on DHM authority

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 5:57 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Some Nebraska state senators want local health departments to get the OK from the state before issuing a directed health measure pertaining to an epidemic or pandemic.

LB-859 would make that possible. The bill was discussed in the Unicameral’s Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday afternoon. State Sen. Robert Clemens of Elmwood introduced the bill, saying that right now, Lincoln-Lancaster County is the only city-county health department in Nebraska that can implement a DHM without approval from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“Having consistent DHMs throughout the state benefits our citizens by leveling the economic playing field for businesses while treating our residents as equally and fairly as possible,” Clements said.

Supporters of the bill say it will prevent what they call an overreach of local health departments, but the DHHS chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Anthone, admitted while being questioned by the committee that the state already has the power to issue DHMs.

“Is there anything currently preventing the state from enacting directed health measures... across the state? ... No, we do that all the time. ... That’s under litigation now as you know,” Dr. Anthone said.

Chris Rodgers, president of the Douglas County Board of Health, said he was not surprised by the introduction of the bill.

“You cant say you believe in local control on one hand and take it away on the other,” he said. “All this is about inconsistency, and in the long run, it’s going to hurt public health.”

A new bill in the Nebraska Legislature would limit localized health ordinances

Members of the medical community spoke against the bill. They said it would prevent local health departments from accomplishing their missions.

“It’s clear to us that introduction of this bill was motivated by the uniqueness of Lancaster County Health Department to enact directed health measures without going through bureaucratic and politicized processes,” Abbie Fougeron said.

But state officials in favor of the bill said politics has nothing to do with the proposed measure.

“Question: So the people that are involved with the decision are all medical in nature then that are making the decision? … No, they are not.”

The lawsuit filed over Omaha’s mask mandate will be back in court in June.

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