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Former Senator Urges Ex-Colleagues to Pass Health Equity Bill

Former state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County) returned to Annapolis Tuesday to lobby her ex-colleagues to pass public health legislation that she began to work on several years ago.

Nathan-Pulliam, who resigned from the Senate last fall due to declining health, appeared before the Finance Committee on behalf of Senate Bill 716, a bill introduced by Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s) that expands on health care legislation Nathan-Pulliam pushed in the past.

Augustine’s legislation would establish the Maryland Council on Health in All Policies, a collection of government officials who would meet regularly to establish a “Health in All Policies framework” to consider health impacts of numerous state policies.

The council would consist of state lawmakers and representatives from about 10 state agencies, and would examine and make recommendations for how health considerations may be incorporated into state policy decisions; encourage collaboration between government agencies and develop policies to improve health and
reduce health inequities; and make recommendations on implementing policies to reduce health inequities. The council would be staffed by state public health officials and would be required to issue an annual report.

Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, told lawmakers that the Health in All Policies concept is “a collaborative approach” that 10 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted.

“Health is created by a multitude of factors beyond the medical model, beyond even the parameters of public health,” Thomas said.

Nayna Philipsen, a registered nurse and retired health educator at Coppin State University, said the approach ensures that the least fortunate in society are not forgotten.

“We all know the weakest links in a chain are what makes the chain weak,” she said.

Ex-state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam after testifying in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on public health legislation. Photo by Josh Kurtz

Thomas credited Nathan-Pulliam — herself a registered nurse — with promoting the concept in Augustine’s legislation. In 2017, she passed a bill creating the Workgroup on Health in All Policies, to study and make recommendations to state and local governments on policies that promote public health and health equity.

“I’m sitting next to a force of nature,” Thomas told Nathan-Pulliam’s former colleagues, gesturing to the ex-senator. “But you already knew that.”

Nathan-Pulliam, addressing senators from the witness table, observed, “It is wonderful to be here with you again in a different chair.”

The House version of the legislation is sponsored by Del. Robbyn T. Lewis (D-Baltimore City). It will be heard in the Health and Government Operations Committee on March 11.

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Former Senator Urges Ex-Colleagues to Pass Health Equity Bill