The News Editorial: Legislature was right to address health order process
May 6, 2021
What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time graduation ceremonies were changed dramatically, events were canceled.
Today, both schools are planning regular graduations on May 16, summer events that were canceled last year are getting scheduled again.
It is encouraging and exciting here in Washakie County, the Big Horn Basin and Wyoming for things to be returning back to normal.
While Wyoming did not lock down everything as some states and countries did, schools were closed for a time, and there were businesses such as gyms, health clubs, salons, movie theaters that were shut down for several weeks.
Businesses here felt that impact. Among those, sadly, is Washakie Twin Cinemas, which may not re-open, at least under current ownership. Calls from the Northern Wyoming News to the owner have not been returned.
And then came mask mandates that caused controversies everywhere including here in Washakie County. Different messages about masks were extolled and are still being changed.
In response to the way county and state health orders were implemented and how they were continued, the Wyoming State Legislature introduced a number of bills in the recent session. One bill passed both the House and Senate and was allowed to become law without Governor Mark Gordon’s signature. Gordon made that announcement on April 22.
The COVID-19 pandemic was unique with the various health orders. There were no country-wide or statewide health orders with the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. COVID-19 was new for everyone. The response was unprecedented.
With House Bill 127, the State Legislature was looking forward to how Wyoming should respond to the next pandemic? Who should make those decisions?
According to the summary by the Legislative Service Office, HB127/House Enrolled Act 93 amends how certain public health orders may be issued.
“The act applies to each public health order that restricts individuals’ movements or their ability to engage in an activity, that applies to individuals not under an isolation or quarantine order, and that is designed to prevent or limit the transmission of a contagious or possibly contagious disease.”
According to the summary, these orders, whether issued by the State Health Officer or a local health officer, are limited to 10 days. Subsequent orders, including order extensions, for the same or substantially same purpose may be issued as follows:
•For orders of the State Health Officer, the Governor may issue subsequent orders not to exceed 60 days;
•For orders of local health officers, locally elected governing bodies can issue subsequent orders.
• For certain orders issued by local health officers, the act requires 48 hours notice to the public and an opportunity to comment.
Governor Gordon, in his letter to Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and legislative leaders, wrote, “I believe it was inevitable and appropriate for the Legislature to re-examine the process for public health responses in Wyoming and rejoin the conversation set forth in statute.”
He is right, it is appropriate for the Legislature to take a look at processes that have never needed to be implemented until last year. Processes can look great on paper but until they are implemented in real world scenarios no one can completely comprehend the impact of those scenarios.
Gordon continues in his letter, “I believe enacting HB127 before the pandemic has come to an end and before we are able to do an after action review of the public health response to COVID-19 is premature.” He writes that he supports a task force to review the state’s pandemic response.
The problem with waiting until the pandemic ends is we have no idea when that will be. The H1N1 pandemic ended after about a year. If one listens to Dr. Anthony Fauci we could be looking into late fall this year before there is a return to “normalcy” but he did not say there would be an end to the pandemic at that time. In fact he said “mask wearing could continue into 2022.”
Next Friday will be 14 months since the pandemic was declared.
So, Governor Gordon, we ask you when will you do an after-action review? How long do we wait before changes of the process are enacted for future pandemics?
The governor said the portion that authorizes the director of the Department of Health or the governor the ability to remove the state health officer is unnecessary.
He writes, “Still, I recognize that it is the will of the Legislature to seat the accountability of the Health Officer and health orders more directly with the Governor. I appreciate that intent even though I believe the Governor was always ultimately responsible. Having said that, I still cannot sign this legislation because I think it responds to a particular set of circumstances in a particular time and corrects for perceptions that are raw because of recent experience.”
I do not believe in hasty legislation. It is never good for anyone. I believe, however, the Legislature was attempting to listen to its constituents in putting orders in the hands of those elected by the people.
Is the legislation perfect? Possibly not? Is there good intent and ideas? I believe so. If you look at this year’s legislation many of the bills, in fact many that our local legislators sponsored, were to update or change, or tweak current laws to make them better.
That’s how the process in Wyoming works.
Despite how Wyoming handled things people were impacted by the pandemic and by the health orders, so while we appreciate the Governor wanting a thorough review, with no end in site for an official end to the pandemic, we appreciate the Legislature working to begin the process of making changes on the process of implementing health orders that can and have dramatically impacted people’s lives and people’s livelihoods.