Health legislation brought before lawmakers often requires expert testimony from public health agency experts. Cliff Rees, Practice Director at the Network’s Western Region, spent eight years as a legislative analyst for the Senate Public Affairs Committee of the New Mexico Legislature, and observed that many lawmakers have little or no knowledge of public health concepts, and public health expert witnesses lacked understanding of how to communicate their knowledge in a legislative hearing. Cliff discusses the challenges of providing legislative testimony and offers tips for public health practitioners in his new blog post.
California legalized the use of medical marijuana over a decade ago, and 18 states and Washington D.C. have since followed suit. Public health officials have realized that these laws can result in a variety of unanticipated legal and ethical consequences, including problems associated with administering statewide registries and licensing programs, unregulated marijuana dispensaries, lack of employment or disability protection for medical marijuana users, and inappropriate physician recommendations for medical marijuana use. Our webinar on Thursday, May 16 from 1-2 p.m. (ET) will address implementation issues, provide information and insights on how these issues have been addressed in the past, and provide guidance for states considering or facing issues with medical marijuana laws. Learn more and register.
Agricultural gag (Ag-Gag) is a general term given to legislation that targets undercover investigations of animal processing operations. Those who operate facilities that raise animals for food production believe that Ag-Gag laws protect operators from backlash that can arise when the public sees how the food is produced, even when it is done in a lawful manner. Opponents of Ag-Gag argue that the laws overprotect an industry that too-often employs practices that result in the inhumane treatment of animals. Public health concerns arise when such laws leave unsafe practices unexposed and hinder the nation’s food safety efforts. The public health implications of Ag-Gag laws are addressed in our new issue brief and blog post.
The Network recently received an inquiry from a health official about whether local government zoning permits to engage in frac sand mining can include conditions or contemplate modifications that would protect public health. Frac sand mining refers to the production of silica sand, which has increased in the United States significantly in the last few years due to its use in the natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing. The Network provided the official with references to court cases which held that zoning permit decisions may be reconsidered and overturned only in the rare instance of mistake, public necessity or a significant change in circumstances. It is therefore important for potential public health implications to be anticipated at the time of permit issuance. Read more.
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In 2009, Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Among other things, the act specifically prohibited the use of “characterizing flavorings” deemed as fruity and candy-like in cigarettes to make tobacco less appealing to youth. But one flavor was not banned: menthol. On April 12, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium hand-delivered a Citizens Petition on behalf of 19 public health organizations urging the FDA to exercise its regulatory power and prohibit menthol in cigarettes. Joelle Lester, staff attorney with the Public Health Law Center, helped draft the petition and says a vast body of research makes it clear that menthol cigarettes are a source of addiction for teens and communities of color. Read more.
Last year’s Public Health Law Conference provided public health practitioners, attorneys and advocates with practical legal approaches to priority public health issues, ranging from health reform and emergency preparedness to disease prevention and health data sharing. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics (JMLE) recently published a special issue featuring articles generated from a number of sessions at the conference. Check out the full issue here.
Jane Perkins, J.D., M.P.H., is senior attorney at the Network’s Southeastern Region, and legal director at the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), a public interest law firm working to improve health access and health care for vulnerable populations. Before coming to NHeLP, Jane was an assistant attorney general in the State of Maryland, assigned to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and an associate in the health care division of a San Francisco area law firm. Read more
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The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.