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Proposal would mandate grading of all new laws on health impact

Special to the Legal News

Published: September 17, 2018

Every new law, administrative rule, directive or state policy would be graded on its health impact of Ohio citizens if a measure championed by a Democrat senator from Columbus clears the legislature.

"We know that the health of our citizens influences every aspect of our state - our economy, our productivity and our residents' success," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Charleta Tavares, said upon introduction of the bill. "Given that our state consistently ranks among the least healthy in the nation, we must take thoughtful and deliberative action to turn things around.

"This includes considering the impact every policy proposal has on the overall well-being of Ohioans and, especially, our most vulnerable communities."

The senator compared the bill to the state's Common Sense Initiative, which looks at the impact of all laws and agency rules on business and the economy.

Filed as Senate Bill 302, the measure would task the Ohio Legislative Service Commission and the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review with conducting an analysis of all bills and rules to determine whether the proposed legislation or rules would have a positive, adverse or neutral impact on the health of Ohioans and on the attainment of health equity in the state.

Tavares said the World Health Organization's Health in All Policies initiative inspired the bill.

"It is an innovative approach to creating and implementing public policies that systematically take into account the health implications of policy decisions," she told Senate peers seated for the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee. "By emphasizing the need to collaborate across sectors to achieve common health goals, Health in All Policies is further defined as a change in the systems that determine how decision-makers in local, state and federal governments ensure that policies have neutral or beneficial impacts on the determinants of health.

"By broadening the scope of this concept through the addition of equity as a component, this policy will provide the state with a more critical look at the overall context in which Ohio's vulnerable populations are impacted by the social determinates of health such as education, housing, safe neighborhoods, healthy foods, transportation, employment, etc."

Specifically, SB 302 would require the two committees to review proposed laws and rules and prepare a health impact statement within four weeks of introduction.

The statement must analyze whether the bill or rule might have a positive, negative or neutral impact on any of the following:

• The health of Ohioans;

• The accomplishment of health equity in Ohio;

• The health or health equity of specific populations or persons residing in specific geographic areas in Ohio;

• The social determinants of health for the most vulnerable populations in Ohio.

Health equity is defined in SB 302 as the absence of avoidable or remediable differences in health outcomes among groups of people based on social, economic, geographic or other demographic factors, while "the social determinants of health" include economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, food security, community and social context and access to health care.

In addition to support from fellow five fellow Senate cosponsors, SB 302 is backed by the Ohio Public Health Association.

"This could be one of the most important public health policies to be considered in Ohio in many years," association President Joe Ebel said in a prepared statement. "If passed, this bill would provide a tool which would allow our state lawmakers to consider the potential health implications of proposed legislation prior to the enactment of any new laws."

Tavares cited the liberal Prevention Institute's economic research, which found investments in activities that were assessed for their impact on health and equity, such as creating physically active communities and increasing access to healthy foods, could result in a large return on investment in just a few years.

"With Ohio ranking 47th nationally on a composite measure of health value, adopting this common sense approach would help the state make great strides in securing better health outcomes for all of Ohio's citizens," she said.

SB 302 had not been scheduled a second hearing at time of publication.

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