Friday, October 9, 2009

Mass. House OKs health quarantines:

By Associated Press
Friday, October 9, 2009
Public health officials would have the power to isolate sick people and order quarantines to contain contagious disease outbreaks under a bill approved by the House yesterday.

The bill, passed by a 113-36 vote, is designed to clarify government authority and citizens’ rights in a public health crisis. Critics say it gives government too much power. Backers say existing law places few checks on government power in a state of emergency.

“The bill strikes that balance between protecting the community in the case of an emergency but also protecting the civil liberties of individuals,” said Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Boston), House Public Health Committee chairman.

The House bill eliminates some of the more contentious parts approved in April by the Senate including restrictions on public assembly and allowing warrantless searches and arrests.

The Senate bill would also let officials mandate vaccinations or isolate anyone who refused to be vaccinated - a provision eliminated from the House version.

But the House bill would let officials order isolation or quarantine when there is “reasonable cause to believe that a disease or condition dangerous to the public health exists.” The bill allows appeals in Superior Court. The two bills will have to be reconciled in conference committee.

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