What Do We Do When A Bill Is Puzzling?

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A guest blog entry from Jay Smith, MD, MPH, NHPHA Policy Committee Co-Chair

As noted by my policy committee co-chair there are an overwhelming number of bills presented at the start of each legislative session.  Going through them, it is often difficult to know whether there is a health dimension.  Some seem to be obvious in their intent and what is good health policy.  But some that clearly touch on public health issues are just plain puzzling.  Here’s a recent example of why I felt it was worth going to the hearing at the committee and ended up testifying even though the NHPHA had not taken an official position.

HB 244 would have set the permissible level of methyl tert-butyl ether in drinking water at zero.  While that sounds lovely, it wasn’t clear to us how that could be accomplished and why that seemed so important to the bill’s sponsor.  After all, there are agencies that already set permissible levels in public drinking water for many things.  After reaching out to the Department of Environmental Services, we eventually learned that this was a result of a panic over a supposed cancer cluster in a community where there was some found in drinking water but below the permissible level.  We didn’t have time to have a policy committee discussion so I testified without either supporting or opposing but pointing why this might not be good policy since no real problem had been identified and the goal was likely not attainable even if we knew there was a problem with the current standard.  A companion piece of legislation, HB 248, would have directed the University of New Hampshire to do a study on this possible carcinogen but provided no funding for it.  Again, I testified neither directly for nor against but pointed how difficult such epidemiology studies are and that this is not just a NH issue and further study really belongs at a different level.  I think the committee found a public health perspective (more or less in support of our state institutions) helpful.

This echoes my experience with the bill to exempt “non-amable” species, i.e. exotic meats from needing inspection prior to sale to the public.  This was reported in our last newsletter in one of the attachments.  It clearly has health implications but without broad input from other NHPHA members we aren’t able to do a good job of finding out about such legislation in a timely enough fashion to get a bill researched and to take a position.  So, once again, please be alert for any legislation being proposed that might have health implications and help us be well-prepared to help our champions know what is good public policy.
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