Illinois Governor Signs Bill Strengthening States Ability to Respond to Public Health Threats


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich last week signed a comprehensive public health bill that strengthens the states preparedness and response authority in the event of a bioterrorism attack or a naturally occurring infectious disease outbreak.


While Illinois is one of the best prepared states in the nation to deal with emergencies, this new law will improve the states means to control the spread of disease, whether it be an outbreak of a dangerously contagious or infectious disease or the result of bioterrorism, the governor said.


The new law expands the power of state government, particularly those of the Illinois Department of Public Health, in the event of a public health crisis. It is effective immediately.


The new law provides for expanded public health powers and authorizes the state to:


-- order isolation or quarantine, or close facilities without an advance court order if the action is required to protect the public;


-- order physical examinations, tests, the collection of laboratory specimens, vaccinations, medications and other treatments;


-- examine, test, seize or destroy animals believed to be the source of infection in order to prevent the spread of disease in humans;


-- adopt rules providing for the safe disposal of human remains;


-- have emergency access to medical records;


-- expand the authority of licensed professions to provide medical services during the period of a disaster declaration; and


-- share information between and among public health and law enforcement authorities


The addition of the expanded powers listed above was accompanied by the inclusion of significant civil liberties protections and was drafted with input from a variety of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Illinois State Medical Society and the Illinois Hospital Association.


While the state must have the resources and authority to take immediate action in order to prevent the spread of disease, the rights of individuals also must be recognized, Blagojevich said. This bill was carefully crafted in to strike the appropriate balance between the needs of government and the appropriate civil liberties protections.


The legislation includes due process protections, such the right to notice, the right to counsel, and an explicit right to refuse certain examinations, testing or treatments.


This important legislation comes as a result of lessons learned during the states participation in the national TOPOFF 2 terrorism exercise last year, said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. It became apparent during the exercise that the states authority in the event of an emergency needed some improvements and a legal team was immediately convened to help draft this new law.


TOPOFF 2 was mandated by Congress to test the nations ability to respond to terrorism. Illinois volunteered to participate and, in the exercise, the Chicago area was subjected to a simulated intentional release of the plague.


House Bill 5164 was sponsored by state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago).


Source: Illinois Department of Public Health


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