State Statutes Could Slow Down Public Health Agency Response to New Challenges

Assessment of state health agencies' authorizing legislation

Public health statutes can help or hinder health officials in doing their jobs. Because market reforms and the transfer of power from the federal government to the states is changing the way public health is practiced at the state level, prudent policy necessitates a reexamination of the existing statutes of state public health agencies.

This 1996–1998 project compared the health agency enabling statutes from 50 states and one territory and mission statements from 42 states and one territory with the standard of practice held by professionals in the field. It produced a monograph summarizing the study and a one-day dissemination symposium.

Key Findings

  • The study found clear agreement across the country about the core activities of public health agencies and their traditional focuses, such as communicable disease and epidemic control.

    However, it found limited agreement in the statutes about the area in which public health agencies are now identifying a major role, i.e., mobilizing community partnerships to identify and solve health problems.

    The findings suggest that if state public health agencies are to meet the recognized standard of practice, then a large number of states should consider making revisions to their enabling statutes.

    The project findings may be useful to individuals and groups interested in strengthening the public health infrastructure in their states.

    This study also provides a framework for state public health agencies to consider the statutory basis for operating in a changing environment and has helped focus the discussions of those interested in statutory revision.

    In addition, the project provides one of the few sources of data on existing statutes and could be used as the baseline for monitoring changes in statutes over time. The project report—along with individual state reports—were distributed to all state public health officials.