Intrigue in Alabama Senate Over Health Order Control
Some Alabama lawmakers don’t like the authority to declare a 60 day health emergency in the state rests in the hands of State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Governor Kay Ivey. Senate Bill 334 authored by Sen. Tom Whatley (R-District 27, Auburn) is an effort to do something about it.
Six other Republican senators have signed on to Whatley's bill that would limit that power and make it subject to legislative oversight. Senator Cam Ward (R-District 14, Alabaster) represents Bibb County and is co-sponsor of the legislation. "I think the legislature should be in that conversation. When we get past this crisis. When we get to whatever comes next we need to be better prepared than we are now."
Critics claim politicizing the process will not improve preparation or the response.The bill’s backers point out the health officer is not elected but appointed by the State Committee of Public Health. They believe only a person directly responsible to voters should have the final say.
Currently a state of emergency terminates after 60 days unless extended by proclamation of the Governor or joint resolution of the Legislature. The proposed bill would provide that a state of emergency terminates after 14 days and may be extended only by joint resolution of the Legislature or, if the Legislature is not in session, by joint proclamation of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That would diminish the influence and control of the state health officer and governor in a public health crisis considerably.
Governor Ivey's office released a message commending Dr. Harris’s integrity and advice:
“Dr. Harris serves the state with integrity and provides the governor with the best information possible so that she can make the decisions on behalf of the people of Alabama. With any legislation, we will watch the process play out, and if needed, the governor will offer her input before a bill reaches her desk. However, when Legislative Leadership informed the governor that they were resuming Session amidst a health crisis, they assured her that they would only be addressing budgets and local bills, and that is what Governor Ivey looks forward to reviewing.”
The bill has had it’s first reading in the Senate but it may not get past that point for this session. Legislative leaders had promised Gov. Ivey they would only deal with local bills and budgets for the remainder of the session. Now it is being advised the bill is only a suggestion and will be debated later.
Legislative observers say lawmakers have been inundated with demands from the public to somehow for the governor to completely reopen the state prior to consideration of the second stage of her three stage plan at the middle of the month. But even if the upper chamber passes the health control bill, it is unlikely leaders of the house will allow it to come to debate.