Weinberg-Vitale Bill To Strengthen NJ Public Health Council

Measure Would Ensure Broader Representation, Direct Council to Identify Health Funding Available to the State

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairwoman Loretta Weinberg and Committee Vice Chair Joseph F. Vitale which would strengthen the role and membership of the New Jersey Public Health Council was unanimously approved by the panel today.

“At a time when public health dollars are stretched to the limit, we need a public agency with broad health care representation willing to seek out funding wherever it may exist,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Under this bill, the New Jersey Public Health Council would be under a mandate to review health policy, and identify untapped funding sources for which the State can apply. It would make the Public Health Council relevant to the demands of a 21st Century public health care system.”

“Since 2005, the Public Health Council has acted in a diminished advisory role on the periphery of New Jersey’s public health programs,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We want to create a better agency which reflects the various aspects of public health, and is empowered to make policy and funding recommendations. We can and should put this agency to good use to meet the shifting health care needs of New Jersey’s people.”

The bill, S-2659, would revise the Public Health Council’s membership, and restore the functions, powers and duties of the Council. Under the bill, the Council’s membership would be amended in order to better reflect a broader representation of public health interests. Specifically, the revised Council would include:

• a dentist licensed to practice in New Jersey, appointed by the Governor;

• a person who is knowledgeable by way of education or professional experience in health-related aspects of terrorism, appointed by the Governor;

• a dean of a school of public health, or a regionally accredited institution of higher education in New Jersey, appointed by the Governor;

• a health insurance carrier licensed to do business in New Jersey; appointed by the Governor;

• a physician who specializes in infections disease, appointed by the Senate President;

• a State-licensed public health officer, appointed by the Senate President;

• someone who represents a philanthropic foundation that funds research on public health issues, appointed by the Senate President;

• a licensed pediatrician, appointed by the Assembly Speaker;

• a person with a demonstrated expertise in maternal and child health, appointed by the Assembly Speaker; and

• a licensed health care professional with a demonstrated knowledge and interest in public health, appointed by the Assembly Speaker.

Under the bill, each member would serve for a term of four years, as opposed to the seven-year terms prescribed for under current law. The members of the Public Health Council serving on the effective date of the bill would continue to serve until the expiration of their respective terms.

“The current law is silent regarding many of the areas of interest that we’re identifying through this legislation,” said Senator Vitale. “We recognize that any effective health care advisory organization has to represent a broad set of interests. Public health in the Garden State incorporates a large set of moving parts, and we want an organization that respects and reflects the diversity of interests in the public health arena.”

The bill would also direct the Public Health Council to resume some of the duties it had prior to an executive reorganization which took place in 2005 and essentially relegated it to a diminished advisory role. The revamped Public Health Council would be responsible for identifying public and private grants and other funding sources for public health purposes that may be available to the State, and advise the Commissioner of Health of its findings. It would also report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on its activities and include in its report such recommendations for legislative or administrative action as it deems appropriate.

“At a time when more and more people are out of work and depending on public health assistance, we cannot afford to leave money on the table,” said Senator Weinberg. “In addition to restoring many of the original responsibilities of the Public Health Council, this bill would direct the Council to identify public and private funding to supplement the State’s own investment in health care. Ultimately, it will ensure that State health administrators will be able to do more with less, and help the most people possible access public health programs.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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