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Health Powers Act
Will Strip Even
More of Our Rights
(A Libertarian Party Press Release)
WASHINGTON, DC -- A new proposal that would grant governors the power to declare a "bioterrorism emergency" -- then seize property, order public quarantines, and ration food, guns, and alcohol -- appears to be a classic case of government overreaction, say Libertarians.
"This proposed legislation, which has been introduced in a dozen states already, gives governors astonishing powers, under vaguely defined guidelines, to combat a bioterrorism emergency that may never happen," said Steve Dasbach, executive director of the Libertarian Party.
"Even in light of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Americans should be very reluctant to grant governors these sweeping powers. Just because something is done in the name of 'combating terrorism' doesn't make it right, or necessary, or constitutional."
The draft Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MEHPA), written by the Centers for Disease Control, is designed to help state governments cope with a sudden outbreak of smallpox, anthrax, or other bioterrorism attack. Health experts predict that every state will consider the 40-page model legislation at some point this year.
The legislation:
* Gives governors the power to declare a public health emergency, without consulting public health officials, the legislature, or the courts.
* Defines infectious disease as any "disease caused by a living organism," which "may, or may not, be transmissible from person to person, animal to person, or insect to person." Some health experts say the definition is so broad that it could include the outbreak of a dangerous flu or virus.
* Allows public health officials to mandate quarantines for people suspected of having an "infectious disease," and require vaccinations and medical exams. Doctors could be forced to provide them, and fined if they refuse.
* Permits states to mobilize the "organized militia" to seize control of any private property the governor deems "reasonable and necessary" to cope with the emergency, such as "communication devices, real estate, fuels, food, clothing, and health care facilities."
* Allows the governor to destroy private property alleged to be hazardous to public health, in some cases without compensation.
* Empowers the state to "control and restrict alcoholic beverages, firearms, explosives, and combustibles."
The first problem with granting governors such awesome powers is that the definition of an "emergency" is so vague, said Dasbach. According to MEHPA, a public health emergency is "an occurrence or imminent threat of an illness or health condition...caused by bioterrorism...that poses a substantial risk of a significant number of human fatalities."
"Is a significant number five, the number of Americans already killed by the anthrax attacks?" he asked. "Is it 500? Is it 5,000? Unfortunately, if your state passes this legislation, a bioterrorism attack will be whatever your governor says it is."
Dasbach noted that the prestigious Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) warns that under the act, "there is no requirement for scientifically valid assessments, risk:benefit analysis, or judicial or even administrative review." The group's comments on the proposal, along with the text of the model legislation, can be viewed at
The second problem is that MEHPA appears to be an overreaction to a past government failure, said Dasbach.
"A primary function of the federal government, as defined in the Constitution, is to protect Americans against foreign attack," he noted. "On September 11, the government failed in that crucial role.
"Now, instead of reflexively expanding government power at the state level, perhaps it's time to ask why politicians were so unprepared in the first place.
"Perhaps, if they weren't so busy squandering tax money on things like sports stadiums, museums, welfare programs, and business subsidies, they might already have a sensible, practical, limited bioterrorism response in place -- instead of having to scramble to pass a hastily written law that, frankly, should make every American apprehensive."

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