Senate splits but approves bill allowing quarantines for security
April 4, 2003
The Nevada Senate split Thursday in approving a bill giving public health officers the power to quarantine individuals or groups of people during emergencies such as outbreaks of anthrax, tuberculosis or smallpox.
SB82 was introduced by the Human Resources and Facilities Committee as one of the tools Chairman Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, says is needed for homeland security.
“Its gives public health officials the authority to quarantine large groups,” he said, pointing out they currently have powers only to quarantine individuals.
But Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said the bill gives “unbridled discretion for a health authority — whoever that might be — to quarantine individuals or groups.” He said it has too much potential for abuse and isn’t necessary.
Rawson said the legislation contains provisions to protect individual rights and to allow people to contact their relatives and others. He said it gives health authorities the ability to react quickly when there is an outbreak or terrorist attack involving an infectious disease.
Neal said mass quarantines weren’t necessary for TB or smallpox in years past. He said anthrax can’t be passed easily from one person to another.
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He said if SB82 had been law when the AIDs epidemic first became known in San Francisco, “every gay man and gay woman would have been subject to quarantine under this statute.
“This particular piece of legislation is on the order of what we did with the Japanese,” he said, citing the interment of the California Japanese at the start of World War II.
“If you’re going to be fearful of anything, be sure it’s the right thing,” Neal said. “Be fearful of the authority you give these people.”
He said SB82 is another example of the government taking advantage of the terrorist attacks.
“You’re going to see other things that are going to be coming — trying to take advantage of terrorism and mold this country into something,” he said. “Think about it.”
He said he fears the goal is to convince people “that it is better to give up some of these rights than question what is happening.”
“I believe what we have before us today is a bill that would be taking away rights of individuals,” he said.
The vote was 16-5 with Democrats Terry Care, Maggie Carlton, Mike Schneider and Minority Leader Dina Titus — all from Southern Nevada — joining Neal opposing SB82.
The bill now goes to the Assembly for consideration.