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Givhan seeks to limit power of public health chief

Alabama’s top health officer is facing pushback for his comments in a recent speech calling laws on transgender issues “appalling.”

Dr. Scott Harris, who heads the Alabama Department of Public Health, criticized the laws restricting “gender-affirming care” during his keynote speech at the University of Alabama at Birmingham during a “Substance Use and Social Justice Symposium.”

State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) thinks Harris’ comments have given his bill changing how the State Health Officer is appointed a better chance in the Legislature.

Givhan discussed the issue Thursday on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show.”

“Well, we certainly have no control over him at this point in time,” Givhan said, “or anybody in his department, because it’s all controlled by a small group of doctors that appoints the state health officer with no accountability to the state of Alabama, although we pump millions of dollars into the Department of Public Health for them to manage.”

Givhan’s bill would make the position appointed by the governor and work at the pleasure of the governor’s office.

“Well I got in a ditch with that,” he said, “and got down to the substitute that’s out there now, is limited to the governor signing off on health emergencies.”

Now the senator believes his bill has new life because of Harris’ comments.

“Dr. Harris was kind enough over the past few days to back up a massive four-wheel drive with a couple set of chains and hook up to my bill and drag it out of the ditch,” Givhan said. “So I think we’re going to have a different approach, maybe even today, as we go forward and see what happens in that arena.”

He admitted, though, that his legislation still has a ways to go before it could become law.

“We got to get through the floor of the Senate, then we got to get through committee, and then the floor of the House, and then you have the governor sign it,” he said. “So we’re only at step one with me filing the bill. Step two is getting it through committee. Step three is getting it on the floor, and I think if I can get it on the floor, I believe it passes.”

Yaffee is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts “The Yaffee Program” weekdays 9-11 a.m. on WVNN. You can follow him on Twitter @Yaffee

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