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Published: Monday, 10/29/2001

Conflicts seen in state health law shift


Local health officials are concerned that proposed changes in state law could create ethical conflicts - like allowing a restaurateur to sit on the board that licenses food establishments.

A. Jackson Smith, a Toledo-Lucas County health board member, said the proposal has the potential to cause a conflict of interest for a range of industries regulated by the health board.

“You don't put a stock broker on the Securities and Exchange Commission,” he said, referring to the body that regulates stocks, bonds, and securities in the United States.

The bill, a broad rewriting of food-safety law, is well on its way to becoming law.

It has passed the Senate and the House and will return to the Senate in mid-November for approval of changes made by the House.

Sponsored by state Sen. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), the bill includes a provision to form a health district licensing council in each county. Its membership would include a representative from each licensed industry, including restaurants and swimming pools.

Council members would be appointed by the same local governments that appoint members to the local boards of health.

The council only would advise the local health board on licensing matters.

That's not what bothers local health officials. What upsets them is that a member of that council also would have a seat on the more powerful health board, replacing a current member.

“No one in the health community supports this,” said Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner for the Toledo-Lucas County health department. “They've come up with the worst of all ideas.”

Scott Golden, president of the Ohio Environmental Health Association, said he is concerned that the public could lose representation. Usually, each health board member represents a geographic area covered by a health board.

Losing one member potentially could mean a part of a city or county governed by health board would lose representation, Mr. Golden said.

Mr. Golden also said the proposal doesn't seem fair to other programs or people regulated by health boards.

For example, a health board issues permits but not licenses for other things, such as installing sewers and wells.

Dr. Grossman said it's his understanding that the push for the licensing council came after business representatives, including restaurant owners, in one county were upset that their fees had been raised by their local health department.

An Ohio Restaurant Association official said his organization hadn't pushed for the provision.

Staff writer Jim Provance contributed to this report.

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