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Messmer: Bill to improve local government accountability passes Senate

STATEHOUSE (Feb. 9, 2021) – A bill authored by State Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) that would improve local government accountability by establishing an appeals process for local health orders issued during a state disaster emergency passed the Senate Monday by a vote of 40-8.

Senate Bill 5 would allow anyone who is subject to a public emergency-related local health department order to appeal their case to the relevant local legislative body. Currently, local health boards and local health officials, who are appointed, are able to make enforcement decisions that affect the community at large. Messmer said SB 5 would improve local government accountability by giving elected officials authority in these decisions.

"While local health departments are an integral part of county government, it's important that their authority not completely undermine that of county and city councils," Messmer said. "These local bodies are elected at the will of the people, whereas county health officials are not. SB 5 would help ensure there is an appeals process that enables elected officials, local businesses and individual citizens to partake in decisions that affect their entire community."

In order to make an appeal, any person under the issued health enforcement action would have to file an appeal with the legislative body no later than 14 days from the date of issuance, and the legislative body would have 30 days to decide whether to hear it. If an appeal is heard, the legislative body would then be required to hold a public hearing, though an appeal can be denied without a hearing. If an appeal is granted a hearing, the legislative body must issue a written decision no later than 15 days after the hearing.

SB 5 will now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.