Bills died that would have required governor’s approval for state health orders and state OK for county health orders

Not enough Alabama House members voted Wednesday morning to consider legislation requiring the governor to approve any health emergency rule or order issued by the state health officer. When the House sponsor tried to bring up a revised version Thursday, it was voted down.

SB255 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, failed in the House on a procedural vote Wednesday, but was included again on the House’s Thursday special order calendar. Among other provisions, it would have required that a copy of the governor-approved order or directive be filed with the Secretary of State before becoming effective.

Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, who was handling the bill in the House, tried to strip it of all of the provisions related to the state health officer and limit it to military events held off base, but his amended bill failed.

Last week, the House briefly debated legislation that would require a county health officer to get written approval from the state health officer before issuing any order related to a pandemic or disease outbreak. When a Mobile lawmaker asked for time to consult with Dr. Kevin Philip Michaels, who began as that county’s health officer in late February, the chamber carried the bill over and it never resurfaced.

HB447 would formalize what the health officers are already doing,” Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, said. Jefferson and Mobile counties currently are the only counties with separate health officers and authority. Garrett said throughout the pandemic, those health officers did consult with the state health officer “on everything they did.” Under HB447, a county health officer would not have been able to “go further than the state without written approval of the state health officer,” he said.

Garrett introduced similar legislation in 2021.

The COVID-19 state health order ended May 31, 2021, and a limited state of emergency in Alabama ended Oct. 31, 2021, related to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance Feb. 25 of this year to a community level approach to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

On March 1, the Alabama Department of Public Health responded by recommending Alabamians take precautions based on their COVID Community Level:

  • These prevention steps should be taken when the level is low (green): Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and get tested if you have symptoms.
  • If the level is medium (yellow): If you are at high risk for severe illness or are immunocompromised, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions, stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and get tested if you have symptoms.
  • If the level is high (orange): Wear a mask indoors in public, stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines, get tested if you have symptoms. Additional precautions may be needed for people at high risk for severe illness.”

On March 2, the president released a plan to fight COVID-19 into the future. This week, the administration launched, a new one-stop shop for vaccines, tests, treatments, masks and the latest COVID-19 information.

On March 10, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration extended the mask requirement on planes and public transportation for one month to April 18.

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