Emergency department entrance.

New Legal Mapping Method Highlights Recent Laws Limiting Public Health Emergency Orders

By Katie Moran-McCabe

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators in almost every state have introduced bills that would limit state executive authority to respond to the current pandemic or future public health emergencies. Between January 1, 2021, and November 5, 2021, one or more of these bills were enacted into law and became effective in 19 states.

This finding is a product of a new legal mapping method called Sentinel Surveillance of Emerging Laws and Policies (SSELP), developed by researchers from our Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University (CPHLR), with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This mapping method is intended to quickly capture and track emerging laws and legal innovations impacting public health, and to instigate faster evaluation of their effects on health and health equity.

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America divided concept, american flag on cracked background.

COVID-19 Unmasks Issues Around Public Health Preemption

By Jessica Amoroso and Sarah Winston

States across the U.S. are using preemption to stifle local authority aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, resulting in confusion and a fragmented response.

Historically, local governments have played an important role in providing direct and indirect services to their communities, as they have a heightened awareness of their needs compared to state governments. This has proven especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, as city and municipal initiatives often have been the initial access point for virus-related services.

But state preemption is increasingly being used as a legal tool to prevent cities and municipalities from legislating on issues of importance to public health.

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Civil Commitment and the Opioid Epidemic: A Call for Research

By Scott Burris, JD

There is a lot of interest in civil commitment these days, as a possible tool to fight two big health problems. As we continue to watch the rates of opioid-related deaths climb, and in the wake of an unfunded emergency declaration by President Trump, some policymakers are looking to involuntarily commit overdose survivors for drug treatment. On the gun violence side, experts like Jeffrey Swanson have argued for applying gun-access restrictions that now cover people subject to long-term civil commitment to those subjected to short-term civil commitment.

With those kinds of ideas in the air, it is important to recognize how little modern data we have on commitment and its effects. In a recent article in the Washington Post discussing commitment for opioid treatment, Michael Stein and Paul Christopher emphasize how little we know. I entirely agree on the need for more research, and offer a couple of things to help.

The first is the Policy Surveillance Program’s LawAtlas dataset that maps civil commitment laws across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If we’re going to examine these laws and their impact, this is the place to start. We also put out the call to anyone interested in studying this to work with us not only to update this data through 2017, but also to make sure we’re mining these laws and their characteristics for the right information in these circumstances — Are we asking the right questions? Read More