Riccelli Bill to Balance and Improve Public Health Boards Passes Legislature, on its Way to Governor

OLYMPIA – The Washington House of Representatives voted Thursday to concur to Senate amendments to House Bill 1152 by a vote of 60-37. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), aims to apply the lessons learned from the pandemic and create stronger public health districts that can provide an equal level of service for everyone in the state of Washington no matter where they live. While Senate amendments removed the creation of regional shared service districts and regional health officers that would have improved service throughout the state, the bill will balance public health boards to keep politics out of public health and establish a Public Health Advisory Board to lookback at our COVID response and provide recommendations for improving foundational public health.

“We have seen all too clearly what happens when politics infects public health. Whether it is in Spokane, Yakima, or Pierce County, we need to ensure that our health boards put science, medicine, people, and public health over politics,” said Riccelli. “Everyone everywhere in Washington should be able to rely on a standard level of public health.”

HB 1152 works to eliminate politics from local public health boards by requiring that they are balance elected officials and nonelected people who have a diversity of expertise and lived experience. Adding nonelected experts such as doctors, nurses, public health professionals, consumers, tribal representatives, individuals from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities, and representatives from the business community, will help ensure that public health is put over politics and lead to healthier outcomes across the state.

The bill also forms a Public Health Advisory Board to look for ways that the state can create efficiencies and improvements to foundational public health through shared spending. In addition, the Board will be able to look back at our COVID response, help plan for future responses, and make recommendations to improve public health performance.

“Over the past year, we have seen the most dramatic public health event in the past 100 years,” said Riccelli. “We need to use this experience to improve our foundational public health so that we are more prepared for the next pandemic.”

The bill originally passed the House on March 8 with a vote of 56-41 and the Senate on April 11 with a vote of 26-22. It now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.