OLYMPIA, Wash. - A bill that will change the makeup of local health district board members was signed by Governor Jay Inslee on Monday.
House Bill 1152, sponsored by multiple representatives including Spokane Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D), passed the state House with a vote of 60-37 on April 15.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli said, "everyone in Washington state no matter what community they live in should be able to rely on a public health system that is able to support a standard level of public health service."
The bill creates comprehensive guidelines for local health districts to follow. One of the new guidelines requiring half of health board members to be non-elected officials.
"This bill, which my office requested, takes the politics out of public health," Gov. Inslee said. "I am proud of the changes and investments we have made to the healthcare system."
Currently, the Spokane Regional Health District is chaired by nine elected officials and three non-elected officials. If the health board were to keep all nine elected officials, six more non-elected officials must be added.
Additionally, the non-elected officials must fall into new categories which include medical ethicists, epidemiologists, people experienced in environmental public health, community health workers, holders of master's degrees or higher in public health, employees of a local hospital or retired licensed medical workers.
"Public health was being infected by politics that was not putting our public health first," Rep. Riccelli said.
Health boards across the state must balance their members by July 2022.
The bill also stops health districts from making changes to the structure of the organization unless the district receives approval from the State Board of Health.
In November 2020, Spokane Regional Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz was terminated by SRHD. At the time of the termination, approval from the State Board of Health was not required.
Lutz's termination was sparked when SRHD Administrative Officer Amelia Clark quested Lutz's resignation, citing "performance issues."
Dr. Francisco (Frank) Velazquez was then voted in as the Interim Health Officer, who still holds that position.
Following the termination, a preliminary investigation into Amelia Clark and SRHD was opened by the Washington State Board of Health.
"It's not just about the balancing of public health boards," Rep. Riccelli said. "It makes sure we can implement shared services so we can provide public health in an effective, equitable and effective manner."
House Bill 1152 is also creating a Public Health Advisory Board.
"[It] can help look back at our COVID response and put us on a path forward so we are a community and a state are prepared," Rep. Riccelli said. "Public health is our frontline of defense and we see what happens when it is weakened too much."