NY Assemblyman Defends Bill Permitting Detainment of Carriers of ‘Contagious Disease’

NY Assemblyman Defends Bill Permitting Detainment of Carriers of ‘Contagious Disease’
Creative rendition of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. Note: not to scale. (NIAID [shorturl.at/hHKWY])
Isabel van Brugen

A New York Democrat on Sunday defended a controversial bill that could allow the state governor to “order the removal” or detention of an individual deemed to be a suspected case, contact, or carrier of a “contagious disease” if they “pose an imminent and significant threat to the public health.”

Assemblyman Nick Perry, sponsor of Bill A416 that could see individuals detained “by a single order ... in a medical facility or other appropriate facility,” pushed back against backlash that the legislation would violate Americans’ constitutional rights, according to a statement.
The bill (pdf) is scheduled to be taken up on Wednesday by the assembly’s health committee, and states that it may be used in the event that the governor declares a state of health emergency “due to an epidemic of any communicable disease.”

It requires the state governor or his or her delegee “to apply for a court order authorizing a detention within three business days.”

“[T]he governor or his or her delegee may, in his or her discretion, issue and seek enforcement of any other orders that he or she determines are necessary or appropriate to prevent dissemination or transmission of contagious diseases ... to require an individual who has been exposed to or infected by a contagious disease to complete an appropriate, prescribed course of treatment, preventive medication or vaccination,” the bill states. “Such person or persons shall, upon request, be afforded an opportunity to be heard.”

According to the bill, an individual may be detained for up to 60 days but they may not be detained after it is determined that they are no longer contagious.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, in no event shall any person be detained for more than sixty days without a court order authorizing such detention,” the bill states. “The governor or his or her delegee shall seek further court review of such detention within ninety days following the initial court order authorizing detention and thereafter within ninety days of each subsequent court review.”

Responding to widespread criticism of the bill, Perry, a Democrat, noted that earlier versions of the bill were circulated during the 2015-2016 legislative session.

“This bill was initially introduced to address public health concerns related to the containment of the Ebola virus after it was discovered that Ebola-infected persons had entered the United States,” Perry said on Twitter, noting that the Ebola virus meant “almost certain death” to anyone who contracted it.

“I am an American who understands our Constitution is sacred, and provides us with the right to agree or disagree, and hold different positions on issues that may relate to our civil and constitutional rights.”

“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,” the assemblyman said.

“I urge you all to read the bill carefully, and not accept grossly misinformed and misrepresented interpretations of this bill, even though some provisions in this bill may be applicable to the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Perry suggested that the bill is now being actively pushed for passage because many health experts believe that the likelihood of “such a deadly pandemic” that imposes a threat as severe as Ebola “is still real.”

“Somewhere in the future there maybe the need for people to be protected from a person or persons carrying a very deadly and transmittable virus, and this bill is designed to ensure that our government could lawfully act to protect all the people,” he explained.

Perry added that he is open to amend and “improve” the bill in order to address concerns raised by critics in regard to Americans’ Constitutional rights.

Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
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