Omaha City Council Hears Revised Ordinance to Limit Health Director's Epidemic Authority

March 30, 2022, 11 a.m. ·

Lindsay Huse testifies in front of the Omaha City Council
Health Director Lindsay Huse speaks in opposition to the proposed ordinance on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. (Photo via Omaha City Council livestream)

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The Omaha City Council heard public testimony Tuesday night about an amended proposal to limit the county’s health director in their epidemic authority.

This revision doesn’t remove the health director of their complete authority – like the first proposed ordinance did. But it will give veto powers to the mayor and the city council. The health director can still impose mandates; they just need approval from the elected officials.

But for current Douglas County health director, Lindsay Huse, this proposal is better but not ideal. She said during testimony public health officials need to be able to respond quickly to epidemics.

“The city health director is not the only unelected bureaucrat making decisions for the lives of our citizens," she said. "In fact, the very person who approves directed health measures at the state level is an unelected appointee.”

That would be the state's chief medical officer – appointed by the governor.

"To say that an unelected person shouldn't be making decisions, or can't make decisions, that impact health and welfare of our communities is disingenuous at best," Huse said.

A few more opponents of the limitations than proponents spoke Tuesday.

Many of the supporters said they believe the county health director has too much power for an unelected position. They said the added approval of the mayor and city council over the health director would provide proper checks and balances.

Linda Lazure, who served on the State Board of Health under Governors Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns, spoke in favor the revised ordinance. The former Creighton University nursing faculty member said she didn’t support the first proposal to strip the director of all epidemic authority, but she does support this one.

“You’re providing that the well-qualified health director, in consultation with experts, would be the public health decision maker to declare an epidemic," Lazure said. "And you’d include the opportunity for elected officials to vote on the health director decision, which has been reviewed by the mayor.”

Public comments and council discussion came during a long night at Omaha City Council Chambers. The discussion on this ordinance lasted for nearly three hours.

There was no vote scheduled at the meeting. A third reading of the proposal will be heard next at Tuesday’s meeting.