ABA Health eSource
January 2011 Volume 7 Number 5

Introducing the Public Health Law Network

By Dan Stier, JD, Director, National Coordinating Center, Public Health Law Network

AuthorI appreciate the opportunity to introduce the Public Health Law Network. This article is the first step toward what I believe will be a solid and productive working relationship involving the ABA Health Law Section, its Public Health and Policy Interest Group, and our new Network. We envision the Network as seamlessly connecting attorneys with interest, involvement, and expertise in public health law with those needing full and ready access to public health legal information and expertise. As director of the Network’s National Coordinating Center, I see tremendous potential for synergy between the Network, Section, and Interest Group, particularly in view of our shared interest in the diverse facets of public health law and in promoting interaction between state and local bar associations and public health officials.

With initial funding provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), 1 the Public Health Law Network was launched in mid-September, 2010 at a national public health law conference in Atlanta. The Network uses law to improve public health by connecting lawyers specializing in various areas of public health law with public health officials, practitioners, attorneys, policymakers, and public health advocates at the federal, tribal, state, and local levels. We deliver technical assistance on a broad range of public health issues, provide training and education on those issues, and make comprehensive public health law resources available. The Network’s website is a ready means of connecting with everyone interested in public health law by providing an opportunity to join the Network, request technical assistance, access training and educational resources, and stay abreast of the latest developments in public health law. 2

The Network covers the entire country through its National Coordinating Center and five Regional Centers. Situated at the Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, the National Coordinating Center also serves as the Northern Region Center. The Eastern Region is served by the University of Maryland School of Law, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The University of North Carolina, 3 in partnership with the National Health Law Program serves the Southeastern Region, and the Mid-States Region is served by the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico are partnered to serve the Network’s Western Region. 4

The Regions are led by highly-qualified attorneys with many years of experience in public health law practice. Each of the Regions provides leadership and expertise on two or three substantive public health law topics. The topics include cross-border issues, emergency legal preparedness and response, environmental law, food safety, health reform, health information data sharing, injury prevention, public health agency accreditation and shared service delivery, general public health statutory and regulatory information, tobacco control, and tribal public health law. We are also able to expand the range of expertise available to those who contact the Network through our close affiliation with complementary RWJF-supported programs including the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium 5 , National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), and the Public Health Law Research Program. NPLAN - possessing expertise relating to childhood obesity - is a project of Public Health Law and Policy, a program with far-reaching expertise concerning obesity prevention. 6 The Public Health Law Research Program builds the evidence base for effective public health law and policy interventions, and strives to increase the use of effective interventions. 7

The National Coordinating Center and Regional Centers form the core of the Network, and we are committed to providing practical technical assistance and educational resources of the highest quality with respect to our areas of expertise. To fully succeed, however, the Network must expand to include all of the expertise possessed by attorneys in all sectors. Two recent examples of technical assistance demonstrate the desirability and effectiveness of an expanding Network. In one instance, a request received by our Western Region for access to model municipal tobacco control ordinances was immediately referred to the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium. Within days, information concerning model ordinances was provided; in addition, the Consortium referred the requester to an attorney in her state with in-depth expertise relating to model laws and relevant existing laws in that state.

The second example involved a request received by the National Coordinating Center from a state assistant attorney general. The requester was concerned with a threat of litigation relating to implementation of the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. The threatened legal challenge would likely allege violation of federal or state privacy laws, and the requester was able to consult with the data privacy expert in our Mid-States Region. In addition, we were aware of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, and therefore were able to provide the requester with an Alliance paper discussing privacy law considerations involved in implementation of prescription drug monitoring programs. 8

We have just begun to extend the Network beyond its core. A major focus of our work will be to build relationships with key partners throughout the country. Based on prior activities of Network leaders over many years, we already have strong working relationships with attorneys who represent and advise state health departments. We are reaching out to them to offer our assistance when needed, and to make their considerable expertise available to those seeking technical assistance from the Network. A number of those attorneys are assistant attorneys general. With the benefit of foundational research and analysis offered by Public Health Law Research relating to the role of state attorneys general in protecting and improving public health, 9 we are engaging with the National Association of Attorneys General to jointly determine the most effective means of addressing priority public health legal issues.

While many health departments at state and local (particularly in larger metropolitan areas) levels have access to attorneys with requisite public health law expertise, there are many more jurisdictions lacking such access. A primary task of the Network is to build the field of public health law in those jurisdictions. In that regard, the commitment of the ABA Health Law Section and the Public Health and Policy Interest Group to promoting interaction between local bar associations and public health officials could prove pivotal in advancing the cause of public health law. That sort of promotion could bring fresh public health law expertise from both private and public sectors to the Network, and could assist in assessing the public health needs of local officials and providing technical assistance, training, and educational resources where needed.

The Section, Interest Group, and the Network are mutually interested in a variety of substantive public health law issues. Tribal public health law, a primary area of Network interest, is one very important example. I am honored to be included among the panelists who will be Exploring the Legal Landscape of Tribal Public Health Law at the Section’s 12th Annual Conference on Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law. I anticipate future collaboration on many other substantive law topics of mutual interest.

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce the Network. I look forward to a long and productive working relationship.


1 http://www.rwjf.org
2 http://www.publichealthlawnetwork.org
3 North Carolina Institute for Public Health, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
4 Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and University of New Mexico School of Law
5 http://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/programs/tobacco-control-legal-consortium
6 http://www.phlpnet.org
7 http://www.publichealthlawresearch.org
8 http://www.namsdl.org/presdrug.htm
9 http://www.publichealthlawresearch.org/jurisdiction/state/theory-practice-and-evidence/potential-state-attorneys-general-promote-public%E2%80%99s-h

The ABA Health eSource is distributed automatically to members of the ABA Health Law Section . Please feel free to forward it! Non-members may also sign up to receive the ABA Health eSource.