State Sen. Whatley argues for ‘checks and balances’ on State Health Officer; Questions lack of data to justify closures
Earlier this week, State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) introduced SB334, legislation that limits the powers of the State Health Officer and puts a 14-day limit on the length of time the governor can declare a State of Emergency.
The Lee County Republican lawmaker had been a critic of State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris’ decision to enact a shutdown, who he referred to as a “dictator” in the early stages of the state’s shutdown order.
Whatley’s proposal has several heavy-hitters backing it, including State Sens. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), Jim McClendon (R-Springville), Chris Elliott (R-Daphne), Jack Williams (R-Mobile) and Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) and State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who are all named on the bill.
Thursday on Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Whatley laid out the tenets of the bill and its justification, which is to offer a check on the power of the governor and the State Health Officer.
“It’s not a criticism of the State Health Officer,” he said. “It’s a criticism of the process, or a recognition we have a problem in the process. We have a democracy here in Alabama and across the United States. What we have here is an unelected official, who is not even appointed by the governor. He’s appointed by the public health board. Those people are not subject to a governor’s appointment. And they’re also not subject to any type of election or recourse by the citizens, whatsoever. The State Health Officer does not work for the governor, and she’s made that clear in the calls we’ve had.”
“All this does is say the State Health Officer enacts an order, he would have to get the governor’s signature on that order, as well,” Whatley continued. “That gives the governor some ownership over what is going on, the governor some input into what’s going on, and I think that’s what people elect the governor and the legislature to do — is to collaborate and give input together. And the State Health Officer would come up with an order and would have to sell it to or justify it with the governor, and the governor would have to sign it with the State Health Officer. And then that order would be in effect as long as the state of emergency is in effect. This bill changes the length of the state of emergency from 60 days down to 14 days. Then at the end of 14 days, the governor would have to get legislative approval to continue the order.”
“It puts some checks and balances in these orders, and it also gives the people some real input because if you call your senator or your House member now about the state health orders, all they can do is complain to the governor, complain to the State Health Officer,” he added. “But, they have no recourse in the matter.”
Whatley mentioned a situation where State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris was not prepared to offer data that would have been useful in understanding the effectiveness of the shutdown order, which has had an economic toll on the state of Alabama.
“Senator [Greg] Reed from Jasper is one of my great friends in the Senate,” he said. “He is a super senator and a great leader and a diplomat. He asked the State Health Officer, ‘Tell me, we’ve been closed down here for three weeks. What is the rate of coronavirus contraction among those people who stayed at home versus the quote, unquote, ‘essential worker,’ who had to go to work every day at Lowe’s, Home Depot, the grocery store, etc.? Because it stands to reason that if your stay-at-home order is actually working, driving the numbers down, then the people that go out and have to be around people all day would contract the virus at a higher rate.’ The State Health Officer did not know that answer and said that would be something nice to know. It sounds to me like that is a control group that should have been studied from the start.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.