Lawmakers pare back quarantine-powers bill after public concern

Always Investigating

After thousands of pages of testimony mostly in opposition, lawmakers on Thursday pared back a draft bill that would have given government sweeping new powers related to quarantine, an issue Always Investigation reported on Wednesday.

“We’re going to remove the sole authority of the Director of Health to declare a public health emergency,” said Sen. Rosalyn Baker, chair of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee. “That instead needs to be vested as it is with the governor.”

The consumer protection committee also removed the Transient Accommodations Tax as a funding mechanism for a proposed extended screening and order-enforcement, and they intend to add ways that those ordered into quarantine can challenge it quickly in court.

“What we’re going to need is due process,” said committee member Sen. Laura Thielen. “This is going to be especially important for people who are not residents because they’re not going to have access to understand the legal system here, but a lot of residents won’t either and it’s going to be raising due process issues. I think it’s best if we have some kind of expedited ex parte process if somebody does want to challenge it.”

Baker agreed, saying language would be worked on “to make sure there’s a way that folks who are being isolated, ordered into isolation or quarantine if they feel that’s not appropriate, have a way of challenging that and having it be done in an expedited manner.”

Sen. Russell Ruderman added: “I’m very cautious about going down this road, I share some of the concerns of the thousands of people we heard from opposing it. I would be more comfortable if it had a much quicker sunset date so we can revisit and analyze it quickly with public input and review.”

The state Department of Health had testified in favor of the measure, saying: “The department acknowledges that the proposed public health emergency authority protocols may disrupt routine life, including economic and social activity, but are an important tool when widespread community health and life safety is the highest priority.”

The Attorney General’s office drafted the language of the bill at DOH’s request and told Always Investigating: “The bill serves to enhance the tools available to the Department of Health in its effort to contain or mitigate the spread of communicable or dangerous diseases.  Given the current pandemic and need for readiness for the next communicable disease outbreak, such enhanced tools already being in statute is preferable to having to legislate or react in the middle of a crisis.”

Baker cleared up some of the public’s concerns about mandatory vaccination, which no draft of the bill intended, saying: “A number of those that submitted testimony in opposition believed erroneously that this bill authorized universal vaccinations, which is not the case.”

The committee advanced bill HB2502, which now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration. Track the measure HB2502 here.

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