Expanding the Ability of Practitioners and Scholars to Assess Law as a Tool to Improve Public Health

Like their federal and state counterparts, local public health laws can serve a critical role in protecting population health. The goal of this project was to examine the breadth of local public health decision-making authority and describe how local public health ordinances fill gaps in or supplement existing state and federal public health ordinances. To achieve the overarching goal, we sought to provide an initial database of knowledge and local ordinances for existing and future research on local public health law and facilitate information sharing among those working at the local level to modernize and improve local public health law.

There are over 18,000 local jurisdictions (e.g., counties, cities, boroughs, special districts) in the United States, each of which may have some legal authority (albeit minimal in some cases) to regulate in the interests of protecting the public health.

These local jurisdictions have the ability to address local public health issues through law based on the extent of authority bestowed by the state. Through an ongoing study, Building the Base for a Research Agenda on Local Public Health Legal Authority, the authors have reviewed public health components and themes within local ordinances in 37selected municipalities of varying size and location. Diverse public health areas, partly dependent on the relationship between the state and local governance, are addressed at the local level.