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Opinion | Leave health decisions to the experts

“Health policy should be left up to the physicians and scientists, not a panel of lay people who might have political motivations.”

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Lawmakers often complain about the federal government messing in Alabama’s business. But apparently, they don’t see the hypocrisy in meddling in the business of local governments.

A few years ago, Birmingham City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage. A lawmaker from a neighboring bourgie city introduced a bill, and the city was prevented from raising the minimum wage. How was that his business?

Then, many towns and cities wanted to remove statues commending Confederate soldiers and events. Even Birmingham, a post-Civil War city, had Confederate monuments. The Legislature made it against the law for local governments to move or take down the statues. Birmingham did it anyway and paid a $25,000 fine.

Legislators are blind to such double standards.

Now there’s a bill in the House that would set up the Jefferson County Citizens Health Advisory Board to advise Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson. Sponsored by state Rep. David Wheeler, R-Vestavia Hills, in the House and state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale, in the Senate, the bill is a bad idea.

Health policy should be left up to the physicians and scientists, not a panel of lay people who might have political motivations to put pressure on Wilson. It’s also meddling in an area where the Legislature shouldn’t be.

To his credit, Wheeler told WBHM: “The advisory board has no veto power. (Wilson) is not obligated to take any of their recommendations. It’s strictly an opportunity for comment so he can hear from a broader constituency.”

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But here’s the thing. Wilson said he already considers input from others before making health policy. He’s not a dictator. And since Wheeler’s bill gives this “advisory board” up to 10 days to make a decision, it could slow down a much-needed fast response during an event like the current pandemic.

According to the bill, the Jefferson County Citizens Health Advisory Board would consist of nine members serving four years:

  • One member appointed by the Birmingham City Council. 
  • One member appointed by the Jefferson County Commission.
  • One member appointed by the Jefferson County Mayors Association.
  • One member appointed by the members of the Senate of the minority party of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation.
  • One member appointed by the members of the House of Representatives of the minority party of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation.
  • One member appointed by the members of the Senate of the majority party of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation.
  • One member appointed by the members of the House of Representatives of the majority party of the Jefferson County Legislative Delegation.
  • One superintendent in Jefferson County appointed by those superintendents in the School Superintendents of Alabama District 5 who serve school districts located in Jefferson County.
  • One member appointed by the Birmingham Business Alliance.

The bill also states:

“Before issuing any resolution, order, or other directive encouraging or mandating county wide compliance, the Jefferson County Health Officer shall provide a copy of the proposed resolution, order, or directive to the Jefferson County Citizens Health Advisory Board and submit a written request to the advisory board to solicit recommendations regarding the subject and content of the resolution, order, or directive. The Jefferson County Health Officer may not issue the resolution, order, or directive until after he or she receives and considers any recommendations from the advisory board, provided the advisory board responds within 10 calendar days of receiving the written request.”

Clearly, there will be delays, and the county can’t afford delays when an emergency health situation occurs. Nobody wants to force businesses to close, but sometimes, in a deadly pandemic, that may be necessary. A 10-day delay during a health emergency can be a huge problem with lives on the line.

On issues involving the health of Jefferson County residents, I’m much more comfortable letting Wilson come up with the answers than a politically appointed board that more likely than not will have a political agenda.

Written By

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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