Wyoming lawmakers defeat bill challenging health officers

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Public health officers in Wyoming will not be required to scientifically prove the need for their public health orders after a bill calling for them to do so was outvoted.

Wyoming lawmakers voted 8-4 on Wednesday against proposed legislation that would have given the public more power in challenging public health orders, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Republican state Rep. Scott Clem introduced the bill following economic turmoil, business closures and restrictions implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

“As everyone knows, there is no limitation to what our state health officer can do under our current statutes,” Clem said. “There should be some reasonable checks to protect our constitutional rights.”

Currently, the public has the ability to petition onerous public health orders in court, but the bill would have forced health officers to use the least restrictive means necessary to protect public health.

State and county health officers would have only been able to implement business closures or travel restrictions for up to 21 days before having to prove in court that the regulations are necessary.

Medical professionals raised concerns that the bill would signal a shift from using medical expertise to popular political opinion when setting public regulations.

“Pandemics are rare and, thankfully, we don’t deal with this type of thing often. But when life puts us in a circumstances in which we do, decisions that are controversial should be made on the basis of scientific evidence and based in medical knowledge; not public opinion,” Wyoming Medical Society executive director Sheila Bush said.

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