The Public Health Law Clinic is addressing new and old questions this semester, tackling projects related to electronic cigarettes and water quality.
The clinic, which provides state and local public health law officials with legal assistance, is headed by Kathleen Hoke, associate professor of law and director of both the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy and the Network for Public Health Law, Eastern Region. Students in the clinic draft legislation, conduct research on the public health powers of towns and counties, and identify effective public health practices throughout the country.
The Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy is actively engaged in a variety of projects concerning electronic cigarettes. Deputy Director, Will Tilburg, is supervising clinic students in gathering all state and local laws addressing child-resistant packaging for electronic cigarettes and liquid nicotine. This emerging issue is gaining traction around the country.
Tilburg is also working with clinic student Hector Hernandez in identifying the various laws related to indoor use of electronic cigarettes around the country. Along with the Maryland Association of County Health Officers, Tilburg and Hoke testified in support of legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to close a gap that currently allows the sale of liquid nicotine to minors. Tilburg and Hoke are members of the Electronic Cigarette Workgroup organized through the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, through which they stay abreast of the issues associated with this new product.
Students in the Public Health Law Clinic are also working with a local health department in California on policy options to improve the poor quality of water in homes with wells, particularly those homes rented by low-income families who are often from vulnerable populations, including migrant workers.
Since these homes are serviced by a well with only one hook-up, the wells are not subject to any routine testing; state and local law impose testing requirements for all other wells. Clinic students Caroline Lee and Kelsey Harrer have examined the relevant state and local laws, communicated with the local health department staff, researched approaches used in other jurisdictions, and drafted an issue brief on the problem and potential solutions.
This issue came to the attention of Professor Hoke through a technical assistance request made to the Network for Public Health Law—she also learned that many jurisdictions across the country are interested in the same issue. Once finalized, the students’ work will be disseminated widely through the Network.
In the process of conducting research for the clinic, students gain an acute understanding of the interplay between federal, state, and local government and develop creative problem-solving skills. Recent Clinic alumni have taken positions at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the federal government, particularly in health-related agencies.