NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Model" State Health-Crisis Law Raises Concerns

January 7, 2002

As many as a dozen state legislatures are likely this year to debate bills based on a model law developed for the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The model would confer powers on a state's governor to deal with a serious bioterrorism attack by ordering quarantines, restricting residents' movement and rationing medical supplies.

But civil libertarians and privacy advocates are uneasy with the scope of the law and fear it could result in unwarranted government coercion of people to undergo medical treatment, inappropriate confinement of innocent persons and unnecessary disclosure of personal medical records.

  • Legislative leaders from Massachusetts to Minnesota and California to South Carolina have introduced -- or are about to introduce -- emergency health powers legislation based on the CDC model.
  • Critic Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, warns that the model law "puts the lives of an entire state in the hands of one person who may or may not rise to the occasion."
  • Also critical of the effort is the American Legislative Exchange Council -- a group of about 2,400 legislators dedicated to free markets and individual freedom.
  • Georgetown University's Paul Gostin, the lead writer of the model act, contends that there must be "hard trade-offs between civil liberties and property rights of individuals against the collective rights of society."

Turley is especially concerned about a provision that, he says, would give governors "unchecked power" in the first 60 days of a crisis. State laws already give governors the power to deal with crises, he maintains.

Source: Sarah Lueck, "States Seek to Strengthen Emergency Powers," Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2002.

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