Bill Limiting Public Health Orders Headed For Wyoming Senate Debate

This story first appeared on Cowboy State Daily

By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A bill limiting the duration of public health orders to just 10 days without renewal by top elected officials is one step closer to Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.

House Bill 127 would limit public health orders issued by public health officers at the state and local level to 10 days in length. Any extensions could be approved only by local elected officials or the governor.

“I don’t think I need to explain the reasoning for this bill,” bill sponsor and House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, told his Senate colleagues on Monday during a committee hearing. “This bill…tries to segregate the diseased or exposed population from the orders they may be under from a healthy population.”

Barlow said that after the first 10 days of a statewide or county-wide health order being enacted, the decision to keep healthy people under lockdown in addition to those who are sick becomes a political one.

People who are actually sick with an illness can individually be placed under health orders, such as quarantines, that should be issued by health officers, Barlow said.

However he added that since Wyoming’s county and state health officers are appointed, not elected, their powers should be limited when it comes to restricting the movement of healthy people.

“My belief, I took it back to the governing bodies participating in that health district,” Barlow said.

The bill was one of several introduced during the Legislature’s session to limit the authority of public health officers to restrict businesses and actions in the wake of the business shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus.

Wyoming Department of Health Deputy Director Stefan Johansson told the committee that his department didn’t have an official stance on the bill, but did have a few questions about certain situations that would or would not apply, although he did not get the opportunity to ask during the meeting.

Ultimately, three of the committee members chose to send the bill back to the Senate floor this week.

The Appropriations Committee review followed House approval of the bill last week. After being approved by the House, the bill was originally referred to the Senate Corporations Committee for review, but was then redirected to the Appropriations Committee. The Appropriations Committee usually only reviews bills that contain an expense. HB127 carries no expense.

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