Commissioners Gain Additional Power Regarding Health Decisions
By Bill Vander Weele
County commissioners across the state now have more authority when it comes to some public health decisions.
The 2021 Montana Legislature passed and Gov. Greg Gianforte signed three laws regarding the decisions of boards of health and county health officials. After Republicans expressed concerns over COVID health orders, the Montana House and Senate approved new laws that give county commissioners the authority regarding emergency public health and safety issues.
In response, earlier this year, Roosevelt County officials agreed on a resolution to establish the Roosevelt County Commission as the local governing body to have authority over the Roosevelt County Board of Health and the health officer.
“So they can now trump what the board of health does,” Patty Presser, director of the Roosevelt County Health Department, explained.
Under the resolution, the powers and authority of the Roosevelt County Commission includes: * When the office becomes vacant, to appoint a new health officer after recommendations are made by the board. The decision on the appointment based on the board’s recommendation shall be made no later than 30 days from the recommendation of the board.
* To adopt fees or regulations.
* To hold a public meeting for consideration to amend, rescind or otherwise change a directive, mandate or order issued by the board or the health officer in response to a declaration of emergency or disaster by the governor or principal executive officer of a political subdivision.
The board, which consists of seven individuals, have the following duties and obligations: * Adopt bylaws to govern meetings, elect a presiding officer and other necessary officers and hold regular meetings at least quarterly.
* The identification, assessment, prevention and to ameliorate conditions of public health importance through epidemiological tracking and investigation; screening and testing; isolation and quarantine measures; diagnosis, treatment and case management; abatement of public health nuisances; inspections; collecting and maintaining health information; education and training of health professionals; or other public health measures as allowed by law. * Protecting the public from the introduction and spread of communicable disease or other conditions of public health importance, including through actions to ensure the removal of filth or other contaminants that might cause disease or adversely affect public health.
* Supervising or inspection for conditions of public health importance and issue written orders for compliance or for correction, destruction or removal of the conditions consistent with law. * Bringing and pursuing actions and issue orders necessary to abate, restrain or prosecute the violation of public health laws, rules and local regulations.
* The identification to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services an administrative liaison for public health.
* The acceptance and spending of funds received from a federal agency, the state, a school district or other persons or entities.
* Promoting cooperation and agreements with tribes and tribal organizations.
* Providing, implementing, facilitating or encouraging other public health services and functions as considered reasonable and necessary.
* Recommend its local health officer to the Roosevelt County Commission.
* Propose to the Roosevelt County Commission necessary fees to administrator regulations for the control and disposal of sewage from private and public buildings and facilities.
* Propose to the Roosevelt County Commission, regulations for the control of disposal of sewage, communicable diseases, from the removal of filth that might cause disease or adversely affect public health or regulations.
* Adopt rules to implement and enforce the regulations adopted by the local governing body.
Duties of the health officer, which currently is Dr. Mark Zilkoski, include: * Make inspections for conditions of public health importance and issue written orders for compliance.
* Take steps to limit contact between people in order to protect the public health from imminent threats, including but not limited to ordering the closure of buildings or facilities where people congregate and canceling events.
* Report communicable diseases to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services as required by rule. * Establish and maintain quarantine and isolation measures as adopted by the local board of health.
* Pursue action with the appropriate court if this chapter or rules adopted by the local board or department under this chapter are violated.
* Act, on behalf of the board, to fulfill board’s duties and obligations.
* If necessary, delegates certain administrative authority to persons to carry out specific enumerated duties and responsibilities.