In recent days, controversy has arisen over a bill introduced in the New York State Assembly that would, during certain public health emergencies, give the governor of New York the authority to detain persons believed to be carriers of an infectious disease. The bill is known as Assembly Bill 416, and it is sponsored by Asm. Nick Perry (D-Brooklyn). Media reports indicate that some New Yorkers believe the Perry bill to be “a plot by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to open up detention camps” for persons who decline to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Albany Update offers this commentary to provide New York voters with complete information on the Perry bill.
I: The Perry bill is a very bad bill.
The provisions of the Perry bill would become effective in cases when a governor of New York has declared a public health emergency “due to an epidemic of any communicable disease.” In such situations, the Perry bill would allow a governor to issue an order for the removal or detention of a person or group of persons who have, or are suspected to have, a contagious disease that “may pose an imminent and significant threat to the public health resulting in severe morbidity or high mortality.” The governor would be required to make such a determination based on clear and convincing evidence, and would also be required to consult with the commissioner of the New York State Health Department. Detainees would be held “in a medical facility or other appropriate facility,” would have the right to a hearing and the right to legal counsel, and would be released from detention if they were not a danger to public health.
The Perry bill is a terrible idea. It would give no advance notice to detainees. It would make it optional for the state to notify a detainee’s family about his or her detention. It contains no provision for contact between detainees and the outside world. It would allow a detainee to request release, but provides no information on the form that request should take or the official to whom it should be addressed. Furthermore, the Perry bill would allow the authorities to detain a New Yorker even if that New Yorker had not been proven to have been infected with a contagious disease. Under the provisions of this bill, a law-abiding New Yorker could be whisked off the street by public health authorities during an epidemic and detained for a period of days. This Big Brother-type approach to individual rights and freedoms has no place in the United States of America.
II: There is no indication that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is behind the Perry bill.
On January 3, 2021, Cuomo advisor Rich Azzopardi declared that “we didn’t even know about this bill — which has no sponsor in the Senate — until today.”
III: The Perry bill is not moving in the Assembly Health Committee.
Contrary to one statement released by an elected official, the Perry bill is not scheduled for consideration in the Assembly Health Committee in the coming days. In fact, as of January 4, the Assembly Health Committee has not yet scheduled any meetings in 2021.
IV: With the exception of Asm. Perry, the Perry bill appears to have no supporters.
On January 3, 2021, Bill Mahoney of Politico penned the following words:
The vast majority of the 20,000 or so bills introduced in the state Legislature every session never wind up being debated, receive no votes and become little more than pieces of paper that are reintroduced with little thought for however many years or decades the sponsor winds up serving.
Mahoney is right, and it appears that the Perry bill is exactly the type of bill he was talking about. The Perry bill was introduced as Bill A.6891 in 2015, as Bill A.680 in 2017, and as A.99 in 2019. Each time, the bill had no Assembly sponsors other than Asm. Perry, had no Senate sponsors whatsoever, and was not even voted upon at the committee level. The current version of the bill also lacks any sponsors other than Asm. Perry. Asm. Perry has indicated that he introduced the bill in 2015 to address concerns about the Ebola virus, adding that he has not advocated for the bill’s passage since an Ebola vaccine was approved in 2019. On January 3, 2021, State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) mentioned the Perry bill on Twitter. Sen. Kaplan tweeted, “I’ve gotten a lot of emails on this legislation in the past and my response is always the same: the bill is not a serious bill and it’s always DOA.”
There are some radical leftists in the New York State Legislature. So far, however, even those radical leftists have not gotten on board with the Perry bill.
V: The chances of the Perry bill becoming law in 2021 are very slim.
Given that the Perry bill was first introduced in April 2015, has not been co-sponsored by a single legislator in the nearly six years since its introduction, and has never been considered by any Assembly committee, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms deems it highly unlikely that this unnecessary and draconian bill will become law in 2021. In fact, we would be very surprised to see a floor vote on the measure in either house of the State Legislature. Nevertheless, we will keep an eye on the Perry bill, and will oppose it if it gains traction.