Dormant bill suddenly a flashpoint

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 1/13/21

ALBANY, NY — A New York State Assembly bill that’s hung around since 2015 has become the subject of controversy in recent weeks. 

The summary of Assembly Bill A416 simply states, …

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Dormant bill suddenly a flashpoint

Posted

ALBANY, NY — A New York State Assembly bill that’s hung around since 2015 has become the subject of controversy in recent weeks. 

The summary of Assembly Bill A416 simply states, “Relates to the removal of cases, contacts and carriers of communicable diseases who are potentially dangerous to the public health”

Assemblyman N. Nick Perry (D-58) originally introduced it as a way to contain the spread of the Ebola virus in 2015, he said in a statement. 

But the bill, which has languished since then and has never had a co-sponsor in the Senate, has touched off a firestorm of comment. People expressed concerns that it could lead to mask-refusers being locked up, people with other diseases being locked up and people who refuse vaccines being locked up.

A-416 has been referred to the state’s health committee, but there has been no indication that it will be taken up for discussion, according to Politico. 

Perry said, “There is no intent, no plan, or provisions in my bill to take away or violate any rights or liberties that all Americans are entitled to under our Constitution, either state or federal.” 

In the past, people could be confined for public health reasons. Take typhoid fever, which, in the early 20th century, had a 10 percent fatality rate.

A cook, Mary Mallon, was an asymptomatic carrier who spread the disease among the families she worked for. “A dangerous source like Mary had to be restrained,” says a 2013 story in the Annals of Gastroenterology. “She was transferred to North Brother Island to Riverside Hospital, where she was quarantined in a cottage.” 

Mallon spent two years on the island, then was released with restrictions on jobs she could hold, promptly violated the agreement and went back to work as a cook, infecting at least 25 people in three months. She was sent back to the island until her death in 1938.

“I am convinced that most smart Americans, faced with the deadly consequences of having a person who is a carrier of a very deadly virus roaming freely through any community, would support public action to contain such a person from contaminating and potentially bringing certain death to persons they have contact with,” Perry said. He added that since treatments for Ebola exist, the bill hasn’t gone forward, but it remains available if a future pandemic requires that approach. It “ensure[s] the government could lawfully act to protect all the people.”

A state of health emergency would have to be declared by the governor first. 

Then, if the governor and the commissioner feel that “an immediate and significant threat to the public health resulting in severe morbidity or high mortality” exists, the removal or detention of such a person could be ordered. The person would have to be identified by name or by a reasonably specific description “of the individuals or group being detained.” 

Last week, the fact-checking site Snopes.com posted that the bill was not specific to COVID-19 and had not progressed beyond committee. Politifact said that those who have spread worries about the bill are wrong. “The legislation specifies that it applies to infected people and their contacts who refuse to quarantine in a health emergency.” 

Perry said he welcomed suggested amendments to address concerns.

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