Detention of Persons with Contagious Diseases During Epidemics (A.416-Perry)

Bill A.416-Perry would, during public health emergencies caused by epidemics, give the governor of New York the authority to detain persons believed to be infected.

This bill would apply to situations when the governor of New York has declared a public health emergency “due to an epidemic of any communicable disease.” In such situations, the bill would allow the 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.

Bill A.416-Perry contains several fatal flaws. It would give no advance notice to detainees. It would make it optional—not mandatory—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 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. 

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms urges members of the Legislature to vote against this ill-advised legislation.