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Bill reining in public health district powers hits roadblock

A stethoscope laid on a stack of medical records.
Emilie Ritter Saunders
Boise State Public Radio
Some state legislators want to rein in powers of regional public health districts after implementing policies, like mask mandates, they considered to be government overreach.

Lawmakers hoping to limit the power of Idaho’s public health districts are facing headwinds.

The bill would cut the scope of public health districts, by telling them to only take “necessary and reasonable” steps to protect public health as opposed to “all” steps in current law.

“In Idaho, which is a state where we hold individual freedom and restrained governance in high esteem, I believe it’s essential that we establish boundaries,” said Sen. Brian Lenney (R-Nampa), one of the bill’s sponsors.

It also would bar districts from focusing on preventative health programs. That concerns House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett), who recently served on her regional public health board.

“There are some programs that are voluntary and available to families and I’m deeply concerned that removing the preventative language is going to have a chilling effect on those programs,” Blanksma said.

Specifically, she pointed to Central District Health’s First Teeth Matter initiative, which teaches young children how to care for their teeth to prevent cavities.

Lenney said it’s simply targeting government overreach, like mask mandates.

“This bill doesn’t strike programs,” said Lenney. “It just restrains the power of the public health boards and presents them more as advisors.”

The House Health and Welfare Committee voted to send the legislation to the floor for amendments. That process allows lawmakers to change the bill any way they choose.

It’s unclear when it could be taken up.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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