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Years-old bill that would allow state to detain contagious patients extremely unlikely to gain any traction in Albany

Posted at 6:23 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 00:26:49-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Republican lawmakers in New York are crying foul over a piece of legislation that would give state and county leaders the ability to detain contagious patients during a state of emergency.

The bill is Assembly Bill 416. While it's making the rounds on social media now, it was originally proposed in 2015 during the Ebola outbreak and has never once been heard by committee. It has been introduced in the 2015-2016, 2017-2018, 2019-2020 legislative sessions, and the current session.

The bill is described as:

“An act to amend the public health law, in relation to the removal of cases, contacts and carriers of communicable diseases who are potentially dangerous to the public health.”

The bill goes on to read:

Upon determining by clear and convincing evidence that the health of others is or may be endangered by a case, contact or carrier, or suspected case, contact or carrier of a contagious disease that, in the opinion of the governor, after consultation with the commissioner, may pose an imminent and significant threat to the public health resulting in severe morbidity or high mortality, the governor or his or her delegee, including, but not limited to the commissioner or the heads of local health departments, may order the removal and/or detention of such a person or of a group of such persons by issuing a single order, identifying such persons either by name or by a reasonably specific description of the individuals or group being detained. Such person or group of persons shall be detained in a medical facility or other appropriate facility or premises designated by the governor or his or her delegee.
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The wording of this bill worries lawmakers like Assemblyman Steve Hawley, a Republican from Batavia.

“Protecting the health of our neighbors is a noble goal to be certain, but this bill forfeits our constitutional liberty in a way we can never allow,” said Hawley in a media release.

“In my opinion, just introducing these bills creates a negative impact that ultimately harms the effort to get our state past the pandemic, safely,” said Senator George Borello, a Republican who represents, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Nick Perry from Brooklyn. The bill was written in 2015 after a woman refused to quarantine after working closely with patients who had Ebola.

Perry wrote this on his Facebook page on Sunday regarding a416:

“Somewhere in the future there may be the need for people to protect 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 protect all the people.

I am open to amendments that would address real concerns raised by critics and will quite happily accept suggestions that will improve the bill in regard to concerns to constitutional rights.”
Assemblyman Nick Perry

You can read his full statement here:

The governor is specifically mentioned in the bill as having power to detain contagious patients.

According to an adviser of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the governor never knew this bill existed.

“It apparently is six years old, has no Senate sponsor and has never moved out of committee. We have real problems to focus on and I urge the crazy uncles who are fueling this cut rate Qanon – and the politicians pandering to them -- to knock it off, turn off Proud Boy Twitter and take a walk or something,” wrote Rich Azzopardi Senior Advisor to the Governor.

To get a sense of just how many bills are proposed and never make it out of committee, in the 2019-2020 session 7,982 assembly bills didn’t make it out of committee. In the New York State Senate, 6,098 didn’t make it out of committee. In that same time period, 753 bills were signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.