The sentinel surveillance of emerging laws and policies (SSELP) project has been developed by the Center for Public Health Law Research (CPHLR) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a new legal mapping method intended to quickly capture and track emerging laws and legal innovations impacting public health.

As public health environments shift, it is as important as ever to know how legal measures impact health. The primary goal of SSELP is the swift identification of new or rapidly evolving laws and policies to instigate faster evaluation of their effects on health and health equity. The process aspires to establish the foundation for ongoing policy surveillance, allowing researchers to determine priority candidates for future scientific legal mapping in a timely manner, which ultimately supports the creation of robust legal data that can be used to evaluate emerging laws and policies. SSELP also aims to provide a picture of the legal landscape and movement of these legal approaches more quickly across jurisdictions and over time.  

The SSELP process involves researchers scanning the legal terrain to quickly track emerging legal approaches. Due to the emphasis on rapid tracking, the process involves limited quality control – only one researcher codes each jurisdiction, with a supervisor conducting spot checks of a small sample of the coding. Because this process aims to quickly track emerging legal changes on a particular topic at a high-level, SSELP identifies the most critical features of these laws. The end product of this process is an SSELP dataset. The data produced are not meant to be readily usable for evaluation due to the limited quality control measures but are meant to provide a high-level overview of laws and policies that gives policymakers, advocates, researchers and others a snapshot of a new or rapidly evolving legal landscape. The relatively quick SSELP process aims to allow the datasets to be updated regularly to maintain data in near real-time.

CPHLR staff continues to experiment with, and further develop, these methods to determine the most useful and efficient process. Please see the Research Protocol published with each dataset for a detailed description of the methods used to create these data.

The following guidelines were developed with assistance from the Sentinel Surveillance Advisory Council, and are used to determine whether a law or policy is a priority candidate for SSELP tracking:

  • Accessibility of the law. The law or policy is in written form that can feasibly be obtained for the included jurisdictions.
  • Impact on health and equity. The research team hypothesizes that the policy has or will have a significant impact on health, health-related services, or equity.
  • Equity. A law or policy that has an anticipated impact on equity (health equity, racial equity, etc.) will be a stronger candidate for tracking than those that do not.
  • Rapid policy diffusion. The policy is spreading or has been endorsed or pushed by national organizations capable of promoting its spread. Factors may include when the law was passed, the number of jurisdictions that have the law, and scalability.
  • Need for research. There are important questions about the implementation and impact of the policy, and a publicly available dataset would facilitate such research.
  • Partnership Potential. There is a potential to collaborate with partners on some aspect of the SSELP process (e.g., research, coding, tracking, dissemination).

The SSELP datasets can be found through the links below:

Watch the Legal Epi at Lunch webinar that explores sentinel surveillance: 

Capturing a Rapidly Changing Landscape using Sentinel Surveillance WATCH NOW | SLIDES


If you have any questions regarding the information provided in these datasets, please contact

Special thanks to the Sentinel Surveillance Advisory Council members for their time and guidance:

  • Andy Baker-White, JD, MPH – Senior Director, State Health Policy, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
  • Blaire Bryant, MPH – Associate Legislative Director-Health, National Association of Counties
  • Cesar De La Vega, JD – Senior Policy Analyst, ChangeLab Solutions
  • Brandon del Pozo, PhD, MPA, MA – Postdoctoral Fellow, The Miriam Hospital / Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
  • Heather Gray, Esq. – Senior Legislative Attorney, Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association
  • Ruth Lindberg, MUP, MPH – Project Director, Health Impact Project, The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Adam Lustig, MS – Senior Policy Development Manager, Trust for America’s Health
  • Sally Mancini, MPH – Director of Advocacy Resources, University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health
  • Laurie Martin, ScD, MPH – Senior Policy Researcher, RAND Corporation
  • Kerri McGowan Lowrey, JD, MPH – Deputy Director/Director of Grants & Research, Eastern Region Office, The Network for Public Health Law
  • Geoffrey Mwaungulu, Jr., JD, MPH – Director for Public Health Law and Policy, National Association of County and City Health Officials
  • Elizabeth Nash, MPP – Interim Associate Director of State Issues, Guttmacher Institute
  • Sue Polis – Director, Health and Wellness, Institute for Youth, Education and Families, National League of Cities
  • Noëlle Porter, MPH – Director of Government Affairs, National Housing Law Project
  • Julie Ralston Aoki, JD – Director of Healthy Eating and Active Living Programs, Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law
  • Benjamin Winig, JD, MPA – Founder and Principal, ThinkForward Strategies