Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, Wisconsin Public Health Association: Wisconsin’s public health professionals request removal of provision weakening local health officer authority from shared revenue bill

The Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards (WALHDAB) and the Wisconsin Public  Health Association (WPHA) represent over 1,200 public health professionals who promote and protect the  health of Wisconsin residents. Speaking on behalf of WPHA and WALHDAB, Geoffrey Swain, MD, MPH,  Immediate Past President of WPHA, laid out the organizations’ position: 

“Today, Assembly Bill 245 was introduced to expand shared revenue to local governments throughout  Wisconsin. WPHA and WALHDAB applaud the Legislature’s efforts to expand shared revenue to local  communities.  

At the same time, this legislation includes a provision that would prohibit a local public health officer from  taking actions that exceed 14 days to protect businesses and their customers from communicable diseases,  unless the appropriate local governing body votes to approve one or more 14-day extensions of that action.  

Our organizations are concerned that the local health officer provision in this bill would impact local  government functioning, adversely affect community health, and jeopardize local business privacy and the  confidentiality of individuals.  

In the rare instance when a local health officer orders the temporary closure of a business, it is necessary to  protect the business and its customers from important communicable diseases. Restricting a local health  officer’s ability to control the spread of a disease to 14 days is arbitrary and dangerous. Each communicable  disease has its own specific time frame for contagiousness and incubation which may exceed 14 days.  

Moreover, every request to a local governing body to extend an order under this provision would be debated in  a public meeting and would likely generate significant media attention, resulting in considerable negative  impact on the business as well as for individual employee health information, especially for our small business  owners that have very few employees. 

Local health officers have had the authority in state statute (Chapter 252.03) for decades to address  communicable disease outbreaks. The original legislation passed the State Assembly on a heavily bipartisan 87  to 5 vote and was unanimously approved by the State Senate and signed into law by Republican Governor Lee  Sherman Dreyfus in 1982. It already includes a requirement for local health officers to keep local governing  bodies informed of communicable disease measures taken. 

WPHA and WALHDAB jointly call on the Legislature to remove the provision weakening the authority of local  public health officers from Assembly Bill 245. Removing this provision is simply the right thing to do to protect  the health and safety of Wisconsinites.”