The intent of the bills is to make sure public health officials are not overextending their promotional messaging
For Clark County Today
A bipartisan piece of legislation was filed in the State House of Representatives on Thursday (Jan. 27), and a companion bill also dropped in the State Senate. House Bill 1610, dubbed the Restoring Trust in Public Health Through Consumer Protection bill, was presented by 19th Legislative District Republican Rep. Jim Walsh.
Walsh had been working for several weeks on its content with Clark County resident Bob Runnells and his team with the group Informed Choice Washington (ICWA). Republican State Sen. Jeff Wilson, also of the 19th Legislative District, assisted in writing the legislation and presented Senate Bill 5596.
Advocates from ICWA walked the halls of the Capitol in Olympia on Wednesday to add to sponsorship to bills on both sides of the political aisle, citing the importance of the bill, particularly following two years of “pharmaceutical companies influence public health decisions,” as Runnells put it.
“We looked at over 20 bills from across the country to consider running here in Washington,” Runnells said. “The one we went with was a new idea based on those bills that seemed like it would be able to appeal to both sides.” He added that the intent of the bill is to make sure public health officials are not overextending their promotional messaging. “They promoted masks, they promoted COVID shots under Emergency Use Authorization, and in some cases they even failed to attach the required EUA messaging.”
Normally, Runnells said, ICWA would have filed three to four bills to push back on pandemic restrictions, etc., but they wanted to focus on something that could get both sides of the political aisle involved. “We are very supportive of the bill that requires the rehiring of the workers who were fired for declining to receive a COVID shot. We would like to see those wrongs righted from the pandemic.”
Runnells mentioned a nursing student who is attempting to get volunteer hours is not even allowed to do trail work – meaning outside – because she declined the shot. “That’s absurd, and it will ultimately hurt our public health by losing good people like her,” Runnells said.
The other prong of the bill is preventing conflict of interest in public health. “A government agency may not hold membership in an organization that collaborates with or is directly or indirectly sponsored by manufacturers of products for which the agency is responsible for creating or implementing policy,” the bill reads. “When the secretary of health [Umair Shah] is making recommendations and decisions after meeting with pharmaceutical industry leader heads in NACCHO [National Association of County and City Health Officials], which is a clear line to the pharmaceutical companies’ money, that’s a problem. It effects laws here in Washington State and influences the Department of Health policy, as well as the Board of Health decisions.”
Notably, so far in the House, in addition to Walsh, 18th Legislative District Republican Rep. Stephanie McClintock has signed on to the bill, as well as Democrat Amy Walen of the 48th Legislative District. In the Senate, 18th Legislative District Sen. Ann Rivers, who is the ranking minority member of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, has signed on to the Senate companion bill. ICWA advocates actively sought lawmakers from both parties to sign on, but were met with some roadblocks in their efforts, including one Democratic lawmaker who refused to hear what the bill was attempting to accomplish once he heard the word “vaccine” mentioned. Further, this particular lawmaker refused to allow two of his constituents to enter the meeting with him and the ICWA members via Zoom, as he said he did not think there was a reason to hear their pleas. “I believe in science,” this lawmaker said. He did not have a reply when asked whether he believed science included giving accurate information as it becomes available or asking questions to learn more about the specific science in question.
Annette Cleveland, Democrat State Senator for the 49th Legislative District, is the chair of the Health and Long Term Care Committee. ICWA would like supporters of this bill, especially those who are represented by Cleveland, to write in and make their support known, asking Cleveland to make sure this bill is heard during a committee meeting.
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