Opportunity Atlas Creates Opportunities for Legal Epidemiology

By Amy Cook

Public health experts know that the social determinants of health—the environments in which we live, work, learn, and play—all have important effects on our health and well-being. As further evidence of this, in October 2018, researchers from Opportunity Insights collaborated with the Census Bureau to unveil the Opportunity Atlas, an interactive tool tracking data from more than 20 million Americans from childhood through their mid-30s, across each of the country’s 70,000 census tracts. The Opportunity Atlas gives us crucial insight into the level of geography that can impact adult outcomes: beyond the state and city, the neighborhood matters, sometimes tremendously. Read More

Abortion rights protest following the Supreme Court decision for Whole Women's Health in 2016

Louisiana TRAP Law Challenge Could Leave Thousands of Women without Abortion Access

By Adrienne Ghorashi

UPDATE: Late Thursday, February 7, the Supreme Court granted Plaintiff’s stay application, meaning Louisiana’s TRAP law may not be enforced while the challengers file an appeal. The Supreme Court will then decide whether to hear the case or deny the petition, letting the Fifth Circuit’s ruling stand.

Justice Roberts sided with the Court’s liberal justices to grant the stay, while Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh would deny it. Kavanaugh also wrote a dissent, saying he would want to see the law go into effect before deciding whether the stay was necessary.

Although this is only a temporary win for the women of Louisiana, these actions could be a sign that a majority of justices have their doubts as to the law’s constitutionality in light of Whole Woman’s Health.

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Preemption, State Minimum Wage Laws and a Public Health Lens

By Jessica Amoroso

On December 6, 2018, Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted on a bill to incrementally raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 an hour for city employees and contractors by 2023. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed the bill into law on December 20, 2018. This vote occurred about five months after Governor Tom Wolf signed an Executive Order raising the minimum wage for certain state employees, set to increase to $15 an hour by 2024.  Meanwhile, under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act, (PMWA), private employers are only required to pay employees the federal minimum wage, $7.25, unchanged since 2009.

Essentially, this creates a situation where local and state government employers will be legally obligated to provide employees with a $15 per hour minimum wage, but private employers will not be required to do so.

What’s at play here? Preemption. Read More

Pennsylvania Not Alone in Denying Abortion Coverage for Low-Income Women

By Adrienne Ghorashi

Last week, a lawsuit was filed challenging Pennsylvania’s decades-old statute restricting the use of state Medicaid funding to pay for abortion services. The lawsuit, brought by a group of abortion providers in the state, claims the restriction discriminates against low-income women on the basis of sex, in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Read More

Public Health Law Research Book Club: “The New Public Health Law”

Cover of new textbook, The New Public Health LawThe newest textbook in public health law comes from Scott Burris, Micah Berman, Matthew Penn and Tara Ramanathan Holiday. The New Public Health Law is an effort to equip students in law, public health, social work and other fields in the public health and social policy realms with the tools to fully exploit the potential of law to improve public health. It takes a transdisciplinary approach, breaking down complex legal processes into discrete and understandable stages, using examples from the field.

We asked authors Micah Berman and Scott Burris about the textbook’s new approach to teaching and learning public health law.

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Cottage Food and Food Freedom Laws – New LawAtlas data

The newest map on LawAtlas.org analyzes state laws governing the production, sale, and regulation of cottage food operations.

Typically, commercial food production is required to take place in certified commercial kitchens that are heavily regulated. Cottage foods laws regulate the production and sale of certain foods (foods less likely to cause foodborne illness, such as jams and baked goods) made in home kitchens, rather than a licensed commercial kitchen, and a person’s ability sell them in venues like farm stands or retail stores. Similar state laws, called “food freedom laws,” expand upon cottage food laws to include potentially hazardous products like meat and poultry.

These laws are quickly becoming an increasing area of debate at the state level.  Part of this debate centers on the economic rights of “small-batch” home bakers and cooks versus public health and safety concerns. These private bakers, canners, and cooks want the liberty to sell their products to consumers free from the onerous licensing requirements required of their larger commercial counterparts, restaurants and food processing plants, are subject to.  At the same time, there is concern that this individual economic interest is riding roughshod over existing regulations designed to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses that can be caused by improperly prepared foods.

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Policy Surveillance Summer Institute 2018

Join us for the Policy Surveillance Program’s 3rd annual Summer Institute, June 7-8. The 2018 Summer Institute will teach public health law research methods, with a focus on policy surveillance, during a two-day intensive training at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. Policy surveillance tracks public health laws and policies over time and across jurisdictions, using a rigorous scientific process to create data for evaluation and empirical research. The Institute will consist of two tracks, introductory and advanced. The introductory track is intended for participants who are interested in learning the steps of the policy surveillance process, while the advanced track is intended for participants who are already familiar with the steps of the policy surveillance process and would like to learn the techniques and tools needed to manage a policy surveillance project. Register now!

New E-Cigarette Dataset Available on LawAtlas.org: Explore the Regulatory Landscape!

Since their introduction to the United States market in 2006, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have quickly transformed from a novelty product into a widely used device for the delivery of nicotine and flavored vapors. In 2017, a nationally representative study found that 35.8% of high school seniors reported trying “vaping,” or using e-cigarettes, in comparison to the 26.6% who reported their use of traditional, combustible cigarettes. The study also found that 18.5% of eighth graders reported trying vaping. Youth acceptance of vaping has concerned public health advocates, who worry that the impacts of the successful campaign against tobacco could be reversed if vaping makes young people more likely to initiate smoking.

As of August 1, 2017, 49 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. federal law regulate e-cigarettes. The Center for Public Health Law Research has released a new dataset analyzing laws controlling electronic cigarettes now available on LawAtlas.org, the Policy Surveillance Program’s website dedicated to empirical legal datasets. This research reveals several important decisions that states make when regulating e-cigarettes.

First is whether e-cigarettes are regulated in the same way as traditional tobacco products. Incorporating e-cigarettes into the existing definition of “tobacco products,” is a common practice. As of August 1, 2017, 11 states and the District of Columbia consider e-cigarettes to be a tobacco product. Additionally, 12 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. federal law also regulate e-cigarettes similarly to traditional cigarettes by including the use of e-cigarettes in their definition of smoking. This often places e-cigarettes under the control of state clean indoor air acts, which restrict the use of e-cigarettes in the same areas where smoking traditional cigarettes is prohibited.

Another important legal distinction is whether e-cigarettes must contain nicotine. Eleven states and U.S. federal law require an e-cigarette to contain nicotine in order to be legally defined as an e-cigarette. Some e-cigarettes only deliver flavored vapor and do not deliver nicotine. Therefore, definitions of e-cigarettes that require nicotine content do not regulate e-cigarettes that only deliver flavoring. While flavorings may not contain addictive chemicals like nicotine, studies have shown that certain flavoring chemicals can produce harmful reactions in users’ lungs.

The dataset also captures requirements related to online purchasing and product packaging, including child-resistant packaging and nicotine concentration labeling requirements. Child-resistant packaging is important because the nicotine concentrations in the “e-liquids” vaporized by e-cigarettes are high enough to cause nicotine poisoning if ingested or even if touched. Further, online purchasing requirements are important because many e-cigarettes are purchased online and can be shipped to underage users illegally if website vendors are not scrupulous in their screening practices. As of August 1, 2017, 12 states require age verification by a third-party service for online purchases of e-cigarettes.

As medical and scientific researchers continue to publish studies on the potential public health impacts of e-cigarettes, the state regulatory landscape may evolve further. Although many studies conclude that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, their long-term effects are still unknown. To aid this research, the new policy surveillance Electronic Cigarette Laws data set serves as a resource for tracking the regulatory response of states as the consumption of e-cigarettes continues to expand.

New Study Finds That TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) Laws Are More Pervasive and Stringent Than Laws Regulating Other Office Interventions – Datasets and Mapping Tool Now Available on LawAtlas

Researchers from The University of California, San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) and Temple University’s Policy Surveillance Program of the Center for Public Health Law Research (CPHLR) published a study yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health, comparing laws governing facilities that provide abortions with laws governing facilities that provide other office interventions (e.g., office-based surgeries and procedures). The study found that laws targeting abortion provision are more numerous, expansive, and burdensome than laws regulating facilities providing other medical interventions.

The study was based on empirical datasets analyzing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) Laws and Office-Based Surgery (OBS) Laws, all now available on LawAtlas.org, the Policy Surveillance Program’s website dedicated to empirical legal datasets. The study of TRAP laws is comprised of three individual datasets: Abortion Facility Licensing (AFL) Requirements, Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) Requirements, and Hospitalization Requirements (HR). Detailed descriptions of the TRAP datasets are below.

These three datasets complement a dataset analyzing Office-Based Surgery (OBS) Laws. This fourth dataset was included to study facility requirements imposed on abortion providers in comparison to other medical facilities.