By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A measure that would put elected officials in charge of public health orders that restrict the activities of healthy people won initial approval from Wyoming’s House on Monday.
House Bill 127 was drafted to give someone accountable to the state’s residents authority over how healthy people are treated when statewide orders are issued to prevent the spread of disease, said House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, the bill’s primary sponsor.
“We’re trying to keep people healthy and alive,” Barlow told the House. “If we start limiting healthy people’s activities, that’s where it becomes a little different, in my mind.”
During the year-long coronavirus pandemic, state Public Health Officer Alexia Harrist and Gov. Mark Gordon signed public health orders closing and restricting businesses and limiting public gatherings to slow the spread of the illness.
Under Barlow’s bill, the state public health officers and county health officers could continue to issue orders addressing the actions of people who are ill, such as quarantine orders.
Health officers could also issue orders limiting the activities of people who are not sick, but those orders would only be in effect for 10 days. After 10 days, local and state governing officials, such as county commissioners and the governor, would be responsible for approving any extensions of the orders.
Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the measure, said the bill would make elected officials responsible for actions affecting people who are not sick.
“One of the requests of the people was to have someone who was an elected person be ultimately responsible,” she said.
Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, said such an arrangement could prevent unnecessary economic disruptions in the future.
“The way we currently address these problems has got to change,” he said. “The economic impact we have seen to our state and country over the past year based on the actions taken to address the problem have been astronomical, incalculable. Taking these steps is a huge step in the right direction to the elected officials and to common sense and sanity.”
The bill is one of several introduced during the Legislature’s session to limit the authority of public health officers to restrict businesses and actions in the wake of the business shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus.
The bill now moves to a second reading in the Senate.