MONTGOMERY — Some significant changes are coming to Alabama's public health policy thanks to new legislation passed by the Senate Tuesday, changing how the State Health Officer is appointed and altering the makeup of the State Committee of Public Health.

The Committee, currently composed of 12 members of the Medical Association for the State of Alabama (MASA) Board of Censors and four additional state chairs, appoints the State Health Officer.

Senate Bill 128 (SB128) by State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) would require the governor to appoint the State Health Officer from a list of candidates submitted by the State Committee of Public Health. The bill also removes the synonymous relationship between MASA and the Committee of Public Health.

Alabama law states that MASA "is the state board of health." Melson's bill removes that provision and replaces it with the following:

"The State Board of Health is abolished. All powers and duties of the State Board of Health, as those powers and duties exist on September 30, 2024, are conferred upon the State Committee of Public Health."

The amended bill changes the makeup of the State Committee of Public Health, removing MASA appointees over time, with significant changes occurring in May 2027. 

Beginning May 1, 2027, the State Committee of Public Health will comprise eight physicians appointed by MASA. Additionally, the Alabama State Society of Anesthesiologists, the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Alabama Medical Directors Association, the Council on Dental Health, the Council on Animal and Environmental Health, the Council on the Prevention of Disease and Medical Care, and the Council on Health Costs, Administration, and Organization will each receive one appointment.

The House passed the bill on Tuesday afternoon, and the Senate voted to concur with House changes, sending it to Ivey’s desk for her signature before it can become law.

Health Committee Chairman Paul Lee (R-Dothan) presented the bill on the House floor, offering a substitute bill with changes made in committee.

The bill initially allowed the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives, or President Pro Tempore of the Senate to petition the committee to override or discipline the state health officer if suspected of official wrongdoing. The amended bill requires a majority decision before commencing any disciplinary action.

State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) offered an amendment to the bill, ensuring that the “membership of the State Committee of Public Health is inclusive and reflects the racial, gender, geographic, urban, rural, and economic diversity of the state.” It would also require that one MASA appointee come from its minority physicians section. Lee accepted the amendment, and the House approved it.

State Rep. Ben Harrison (R-Cartwright) thanked Lee for bringing the bill and offered an amendment of his own.

“The problem is that the state board of health is currently the MASA board of censors, and it’s really a private entity that is not accountable to the people of Alabama or their Representatives, even the governor,  as we found out during COVID,” Harrison said.

Harrison then offered an amendment that would remove all MASA appointees and divide the State Committee of Public Health appointees between the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House.

“I do not see this as a friendly amendment,” Lee said. “I think it’s very important in my eyes, and those of us, many of that are involved, I want to make sure that there are well-qualified people that know the right questions to ask when there’s interviewing being done. I like the idea of those that are chosen as the best in the state to choose the best.”

Lee motioned to table Harrison’s amendment, which overwhelmingly passed.

The bill passed the House unanimously, and the Senate voted to concur soon after. It now heads to Ivey’s desk for her signature. She could also offer an executive amendment and return it to the legislature.

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