State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) says he still plans to file a bill changing the appointment method of the State Health Officer despite a recent administrative rule passed by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) limiting the emergency powers of the State Health Officer.

On Thursday, ADPH and the State Committee of Public Health voted to approve an administrative rule change to the State Health Officer's emergency powers after years of complaints in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rule prevents the State Health Officer, a position currently held by Dr. Scott Harris, from issuing or authorizing any emergency powers during a pandemic without the Governor's direct consent, approval, and signature.

In a statement released to 1819 News, ADPH claimed that Gov. Kay Ivey objected to an earlier version of the rule requiring the Legislative Council to approve any emergency action.

"Previous drafts of the rule change subjected every emergency order to legislative review via the Legislative Council (LC), but according to the Governor's legal team, there's a separation of powers issue by allowing the Legislative Council to subject any emergency orders to legislative review that initially requires the Governor's signature of approval—essentially allowing the legislature to override an order signed by the Governor," The statement read. "The Governor's Office wants to avoid legislative review on any emergency order she signs for apparent reasons."

ADPH acknowledged that the rule change was a preemptive response to Givhan, who has threatened to address Harris's scope of authority through legislation.

Givhan attempted to pass a bill last session that would make the State Health Officer role a position appointed by the governor from a list of names submitted by the SCPH. The bill was ultimately chopped down in committee, but Givhan repeatedly said he intends to file it in 2024.

In a statement to 1819 News, Harris said the rule change came after much deliberation and counsel with the governor's office and other lawmakers.  

"Today, the State Committee of Public Health ensured the legislature's concerns were heard, questions were answered, and that we keep our word when we commit to offering solutions," Harris said. "After speaking with many legislators and the Governor's office, the State Committee of Public Health and I wanted to address this issue directly. This rule proposal offers added layers of transparency and accountability for the public and provides the Governor and the legislature with additional checks and balances."

He continued, "There's no question that navigating through the pandemic was very challenging, and the measures that ADPH recommended to protect public health were understandably difficult for the public as well. Still, we're committed to maintaining the integrity of public health without intrusion and keeping Alabama open for business at all costs. COVID-19 still lingers, and ADPH always recommends staying vigilant of your health. Although COVID-19 is something we will have to live with from now on, it's time we move on from that narrative and return to business as usual, although never forgetting all the lives that were lost and the families that were affected by this tragic disease."

Despite the move to assuage Givhan's concerns, he told 1819 News that he still intended to file the bill for the upcoming session set to begin February 2024.

"I'm going to come back with the same thing I had before, actually a little more aggressive from my perspective," Givhan said. "I've got, I can't even count the number of cosponsors there's so many. I'm waiting to get one or two more added before I file it."

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