Legislature debates controversial changes to how health departments are run

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – A big battle is brewing over who controls the county health department’s decision making in West Virginia. On a vote of 21-to-13, the State Senate voted today, to give county commissions the final say on health policies. Backers say some health departments were shutting down businesses like furniture store deliveries, for no health reasons during COVID-19.

“By a local health board, it caused your business to shut down, because you’re not an essential business. That’s one example. And that’s how the family put food on their table,” said State Sen. Mike Maroney, M.D., (R) Marshall – Health Chairman.

Supporters say it puts a check and balance on the decision making. But critics worry about the potential for bad decisions, such as individual counties making their own smoking rules. Or county Commissions could over-rule their local health officials on policies such as clean needle exchange programs for substance abusers.

“I think it takes away the health experts decisions. That’s what I think it does. I think it puts in the hands of elected officials, who might be swayed for a political reason,” said State Sen. Ron Stollings, M.D., (D) Boone.

But some leaders, including Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, say not one lawmaker ever contacted him on the bill, and he is against it.

“In a recent COVID-19 briefing I asked Governor Jim Justice if he planned to sign or veto this bill. He said he was undecided, and his staff was looking into the issue,” said Mark Curtis, 13 News Chief Political Reporter.

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