Omaha doctor: LB421 requiring elected officials to approve health mandates a “mistake”

Some physicians fear misuse or abuse of the issuance of DHMs by elected officials if passed.
A bill in the unicameral would shift the authority to issue Directed Health Measures (DHMs) from health officials to elected officials.
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 6:53 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Tuberculosis, whooping cough, and hepatitis A -- just a few of the spreadable diseases that may require isolation or quarantine to protect others. Through directed health measures – or DHMs – health officials can make that happen.

But now, LB421 in the unicameral would divert the authority away from health directors to elected officials.

Senator Kathleen Kauth introduced the bill. She listed off some of the DHMs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Forced mask-wearing, restrict business operations, in-person gatherings, school attendance, even how far apart we were supposed to stand from each other,” she said.

They were DHMs implemented by health directors across the country. Some believed that elected officials should have had that final say.

“The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light certain flaws in our system. One such flaw is the issue of who gets to restrict freedom under what circumstances and to what degree,” said Kauth.

Her bill would require county boards or city councils to vote on DHMs. They’re issued more often than you’d think, according to doctors and health officials.

“Our local health officers are using their public health authorities all the time. Every day across the country, hundreds of these public health orders or what we call directed health measures are issued to keep people safe,” said Dr. James Lawler, a practicing physician who opposes LB421.

According to the Douglas County Health Department, they issue about 50 to 75 of these per year.

Doctors fear a bill in the Nebraska Legislature would overly-restrict directed health measures.

“To isolate people with active close a restaurant that’s using unsafe food handling practices and is poisoning intervene in environmental contamination issues. So whether it’s lead in water supplies or other toxic chemicals, all of these things are actions that public health officers take on a daily basis,” said Lawler.

Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont expressed concerns, bringing up numerous DHMs their health director adopted in response to the floods of 2019.

“To set up a protocol for an emergency. All these things are emergencies. What emergency are we going to say that the mayor and city council members don’t have to drop what they’re doing?” asked Walz.

The City of Omaha has already passed a local law requiring elected officials to pass citywide DHMs. The same approval is unnecessary for day-to-day, individual, or small-group disease outbreak control. In its current state, LB421 does not make that exception.