Bill expands state powers on quarantine and health emergencies

Coronavirus

Lawmakers are laying the groundwork on vast new public controls ahead of a future health crisis under a bill that has a public hearing tomorrow morning at the capitol. HB2502 had passed several committees prior to the COVID pandemic, then lawmakers did what’s called a “gut and replace” with new language.

The proposed new version of HB2502 gives the health director — instead of just the governor — the power to declare a public health emergency. It lays out how any communicable disease can trigger future isolation and quarantine orders, including those of travelers. It establishes a $5,000 fine for health rule violations. It allows all state departments to share confidential health information with each other and with private contractors. it would make traveler screening mandatory.

A new “travelers screening special fund” would get first priority on a list of things paid for with hotel taxes and fines. It exempts from certain procurement rules all goods and services bought with the money.

The proposed bill changes the very definition of “quarantine” in state law by adding people with just the potential “risk of transmitting” a disease, whereas the current law mandates only people believed to have been exposed or known to have been infected can be quarantined. It gives the health director and the governor the power to order quarantine, whereas now the law is limited to a departmental or court order.

The bill allows an individual subject to quarantine or isolation to request a hearing to contest the order.

Orders issued by the health director can be renewed by the director or governor every 90 days.

“We understand there is significant opposition to this bill that’s been expressed by the community,” the ACLU of Hawaii told Always Investigating. “Generally speaking it’s worth noting that any government restrictions on liberty, including quarantine orders and movement restrictions, need to be based on best public health recommendations, time-limited, the least restrictive means to protect public health, and be continually re-evaluated to ensure they remain justified in light of the medical and scientific evidence and evolving conditions. Any laws that do not meet these requirements would be a cause for concern with respect to peoples’ civil liberties.”

A state Senate spokesperson told Always Investigating that the committee chair declined to comment at this time on the measure.

The hearing is Thursday, June 25, at 9:30 a.m. Read more or submit testimony at these links:

Track measure HB2502

Read the most recent proposed bill language

To weigh in, click “Submit Testimony” on the bill’s tracking page, which will require you to Sign In or Register in order to submit via website

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