State legislators are making vigilant provisions just in case Osama bin Laden's next cowardly shoe to drop is a biological, chemical or nuclear attack. Thirty-three states are considering legislation to prepare for such attacks. For this they should be heartily applauded. But such legislation must also stand scrutiny in respect to civil liberties.
One controversial proposal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Model Emergency Health Powers Act, is rightfully viewed as an unprecedented legislative assault upon civil liberties. The CDC proposal allows governors to unilaterally declare a public health emergency, stripping individuals and families of their rights and liberties for 60 days. Only then is a state legislature allowed to intervene by a majority vote.
Following a governor's emergency declaration, unelected state health officials immediately assume broad powers to seize property, share your private health information, quarantine individuals suspected of being infected, ration goods and services, compel mass vaccinations and even assume control over state and local police. The potential for blunder borne out of incompetence is enormous, not to mention the potential for willful abuse.
The medical community and business owners have the most to fear. Under a declared state of emergency, hospitals could be procured, through ''condemnation or otherwise,'' by anyone who meets whatever constitutes a public health authority. The owner of a fleet of school buses, for example, could have his property expropriated without compensation to transport infected people, animals or waste. Private homes, businesses or our schools could be walled off as quarantine locations. And there is not one thing anyone could do about it for 60 days.
If one set out to intentionally legislate extremism, the CDC model would be
it. Unlike Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maryland, not every state has introduced
the most extreme version of the bill. At the very least, each state and its
citizens should scrutinize every word of legislation being considered. If states
go too far, they hand the terrorists of the world a belated victory.
Duane Parde is executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a bipartisan organization of state legislators.
Copyright © 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.