This new report, “Proposed Limits on Public Health Authority: Dangerous for Public Health,” is a culmination of a rapidly developed project between NACCHO and the Network for Public Health Law with assistance from Johns Hopkins and many others. In recent months, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering measures to limit severely the legal authority of public health agencies to protect the public from serious illness, injury, and death. Other states may consider such legislation in the future. It is foreseeable that these laws will lead to preventable tragedies.
Specifically, this report finds that dissatisfaction and anger at perceived overreaches by governors and public health officials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an onslaught of legislative proposals to eliminate or limit the emergency powers and public health authority used by these officials. Public health officials are also being threatened personally.
The report provides a brief history of public health authority and an overview of the forces seeking to limit public health authority. It offers examples of specific laws that would limit public health authority, and key arguments to counter proposed legislation. It is intended as a resource for public health officials, advocates, and policymakers.