House Approves Health Order Changes, Gives Initial Approval To Pandemic Taskforce

Mar 24, 2021

Credit Bob Beck

A bill that gives more power to elected officials when it comes to public health orders has passed the House.

The measure requires county commissioners to sign off on the extension of a local order after ten days, while the governor would do the same regarding a statewide order.

During the final debate, the House decided against requiring that the state health officer be confirmed by the Senate. Cheyenne Rep. Landon Brown said such an official should be judged on their health care abilities. He said the proposal would politicize the position.

"We're going to start looking at whether their medical credentials are from a politically good enough school. Or we're going to start asking them questions that are politically leaning, when this office should not be dealing with political ramifications," said Brown.

Gillette Rep Tim Hallinan, who is a medical doctor, said the current health officer has already taken on political issues, such as closing down businesses. The House voted down the proposal, but passed the bill. It now heads to the Senate for further debate.

Additionally, the House voted to move forward with a bill that would create a statewide pandemic taskforce to review the events of the past year.

The bill would bring together lawmakers, tribal and county commission representatives, as well as officials in the business, health care and education sectors to analyze what was done well and what could be improved in the state's plans.

"This taskforce will do a deep dive in a meaningful way, in a public setting with public meetings, to ask questions like, how effective were statutes, what happened at the county level, what happened in K through 12, what happened in our business communities, what happened with our agriculture, what happened with our health care facilities," said Wind River Rep. Andi Clifford.

Those against the bill questioned why a special task force is needed when lawmakers are already passing bills to change the system. They also asked why the legislature's Joint Labor and Health committee couldn't just take it up as an interim topic.

But House Labor and Health Committee Chair Sue Wilson said the taskforce is the best way to talk through problems across all industries and groups.

"These are all things that need to be considered as we go forward, not to solve what happened last June, but so that we can get our arms around. How did the whole state work or not work? and how can we discuss across silos?" Wilson said.

The bill will be debated two more times.