Major Components and Themes of Local Public Health Laws in Select U.S. Jurisdictions

An examination of how local authorities regulate public health found 22 common issues recurring across a broad spectrum of municipalities. There are wide variations in the content and scope of municipal ordinances that deal with these issues.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is supporting efforts to investigate the effectiveness of local law as a tool to improve public health. This article presents findings from the initial phase of a project entitled "Building the Base for a Research Agenda On Local Public Health Authority." The authors present data from a review of 37 municipalities.

Key Findings:

  • One local authority enacted three communicable disease prevention codes while another authority's statute yielded to state law.
  • Over half of municipalities had local boards of health, separate sanitation departments, and environmental services departments.
  • Population size appears to be a factor that determines the priority of public health issues at the local level.

Public officials, health professionals, and scholars lack a base of knowledge about how local public health ordinances function. This holds for municipalities themselves, as independent legal entities, and for how municipal statues relate to state law. Future research will help strengthen understanding of the interaction between state and local law.