By Joe Baker
Illinois is one of 34 states considering the Model States Emergency Health Powers Act, a wide-ranging piece of legislation that confers unprecedented powers on a state governor in the event of a health crisis.
House Bill 3809 was placed on the calendar in February for a second reading. It designates the Illinois State Police as the public safety authority and allows the governor and public health officials to order mandatory medical exams and tests, forced isolation and quarantine, authorizes quick take of property and provides immunity from liability for the officials.
In the Senate, SB 1529 authorizes the governor to declare a public health emergency in the event of a biowarfare attack, epidemic or other health emergency. It also provides all involved officials with immunity from liability and authorizes the use of quick take to seize property. It remains in the Senate Rules Committee under the name of the Illinois Emergency Health Powers Act.
Mississippi is the only state to bar the measure so far. Eleven other states have taken no action.
The federal bill was drafted in October of last year, one month after the attacks on New York and Washington. It gave governors the power to order collection of data and records on residents of their states, to ban firearms, to take control of private property and even to quarantine entire cities.
The facist complexion of the bill prompted many complaints and, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a small-government advocacy group in Washington, D.C., caused the authors of the billThe Center for Law and Public Health at Georgetown University and the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionto issue a revised draft in December.
The ALEC, however, said much of the original intent remains. While some of these changes reflect the concerns shared by groups interested in protecting and promoting civil liberties, other changes were merely cosmetic, inexplicable or altogether nonexistent, the ALEC said.
ALEC told World Net Daily that most states have chosen to weaken some provisions of the act. South Dakota is the only state to date to adopt the act, and it dropped the quarantine and ration language and some other provisions.
The groups analysis of the bill states it strips individuals and families of their rights and liberties at the expense of government and represents unnecessary and duplicative legislation, given existing state natural disaster statutes.
But Lawrence Gostin, director of the Center for Law and Public Health, takes issue with that argument. Current public health laws are too highly antiquated and inadequate to ensure a strong and effective response to bioterrorism, he said. Existing laws thwart public health officials in rapidly identifying and ameliorating health threats, thus jeopardizing the publics safety, Gostin said.
Some legal experts, however, contend the act is not necessary because governors already have the power to declare an emergency. They say even well-intentioned legislation may be a threat to civil liberties.