2007-2008 State Environmental Public Health Legislation

Article excerpt

Editor's note: The NEHA Government Affairs program has a long and productive association with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The organizations have worked together on any number of legislative and policy areas that directly impact the environmental health profession. One of the keys to the successes of the NEHA/NCSL collaboration has been the recognition of the fact that often some of the most significant legislative and policy initiatives related to environmental health occur in state legislatures. The states have in a very real sense, been the innovators in developing new programs and practices. They serve as laboratories to test new programmatic approaches to some of our most pressing environmental health problems, and those successful state programs have often been the framework for subsequent national policy.

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In recognition of this fact, we have asked Doug Farquhar from NCSL to provide an overview of state environmental public health legislative activity. The column highlights some of legislative work being done in topic areas that are of the most pressing public concern. It provides summary information in the areas of children's environmental health, indoor air quality, exposure hazards related to: lead, mercury, asbestos, and pesticides. Additionally, some of the newer legislative activities concerning radon, and bio monitoring are presented.

Doug Farquhar, program director for NCSL's Environmental Health Program, has worked with NCSL since 1990. Mr. Farquhar directs program development, management and research for the Environmental Health Program. These projects encompass consultation and policy analysis of state and federal policies and statutes, regulations, and programs regarding environmental health and related topics for state legislatures and administrative programs.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Environmental Health Project has completed its update of state environmental public health legislation for 2007-2008. The database of state legislation can be found at www.ncsl.org/programs/environ/envhealth/ehdatabases.htm.

The 2008 state legislative session saw a resurgence of interest in children's environmental health. Of the 44 states that held regular sessions in 2008, 35 state legislatures introduced bills dealing with children's environmental health, focusing on issues such as children's exposure to tobacco smoke, prohibiting the manufacture or distribution of phthalates, bisphenol-A or lead-containing products, or limits on pesticide applications around schools or at public events.

But this interest in children's environmental health did not limit the number of bills being introduced on other topics. Legislation on biomonitoring, indoor smoking bans, radon control, mercury, tracking and surveillance, as well as general laws on the regulation of toxics were heard, reviewed, amended, reheard, and if survived this scrutiny, passed the legislature for the governor's desk. In some instances, governors did veto certain bills or certain parts of bills.

Overall, of the 582 bills introduced in 2008 on environmental health, 82 bills in 30 states became law. This is fewer than the 146 bills that were adopted on environmental health during the 2007 sessions or 121 bills enacted in 2006. However, several states--California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin--remain in session and could adopt legislation from 2008 as late as January 2009.

With its unlimited bill introduction, New York usually leads in the number of bills introduced, along with the lowest percentage in passage. This year, the states of Illinois and New Jersey led with the most bills on environmental health, with 50 being introduced in Illinois and 51 in the Garden State. Maine passed 12 environmental health bills in 2008 on a range of topics, including indoor air quality, lead hazards, and pesticide control. …