Environmental Health in the 2009 State Legislative Sessions

By Farquhar, Doug | Journal of Environmental Health, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Environmental Health in the 2009 State Legislative Sessions


Farquhar, Doug, Journal of Environmental Health


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.

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 NCS& 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.

By the time this article reaches the readers of the Journal of Environmental Health, a new Congress will be heading to Washington, D.C. and President Obama will be leading this country. In the states, 11 have elected (or reelected) governors, and over 5,000 of the 7,384 state legislators will have survived a campaign to represent their districts in their slate house.

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Overall, the states will be more likely governed by Democrats. Democrats now control all of state government in 17 states, while Republicans control eight states. Of the remaining 24, the two houses of the legislature and governors are from different parties.

For the 2009 legislative sessions, 60 of the 98 legislative chambers will be controlled by Democrats, while 38 will be controlled by Republicans. (Nebraska, being a nonpartisan unicameral legislature, is not counted). The states of New York, Delaware, Ohio, and Wisconsin elected Democrats to control both houses of the legislature and the governors1 office, while in Oklahoma and Tennessee, Republicans will take control. And in an interesting twist, the Democrats in Texas came within one seat of taking control of the House.

So what can we expect for environmental health?

Although the new Congress may be more open to revisit or adopt new environmental health laws, it is in the states where the most innovative and perhaps the most questionable laws may appear.

This is not because state legislators are more progressive than Congress. Rather, state policy makers are closer to their constituents, facing concerns directly, with fewer resources and staff to design comprehensive responses. It is in the states (and more so, the local governments) where we have seen bills banning transfat, requiring labeling of all cancer-causing chemicals, banning all toys and children's products from China, and placing fees on manufacturers of lead-based paint. Each law is in response to a need or concern from the public--some issue that has caused someone harm or at least grief.

Furthermore, it is from the states that the genus of our major federal environmental laws emerged. …

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