Header, the Administration of the Honorable Lincoln C. Almond
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  2002 Signature
2002 Veto
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June 26, 2002


In accordance with the provisions of Rhode Island General Laws § 43-1-4, I am transmitting herewith, with my disapproval, 2002-H 7357 Substitute A, As Amended "An Act Relating to Military Affairs and Defense - Emergency Health Powers Act."

This bill would amend portions of the laws pertaining to isolation and quarantine by requiring that certain due process measures be followed when an individual is isolated or quarantined, including the right to a court hearing and the right to counsel. In addition, the bill would create the "Bioterrorism Preparedness and Reporting Act" mandating that health care facilities report potential public health emergencies, and require the Department of Health to track, perform tests, and respond to potential public health emergencies by compelling vaccination or treatment.

The bill also amends Title 30, Chapter 15 entitled "Emergency Management" in several areas. It adds bioterrorism to the definition of a "disaster," increases the membership of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Council by adding four legislators and alters the Governor's responsibilities and powers relating to a disaster emergency, including requiring the Governor to detail the actions being taken to control the emergency. Finally, this bill would expand the definition of a "disaster response worker" to include "any private person, firm or corporation" and require them to be treated as employees of the State under the workers compensation laws should they be killed or sustain an injury while in training for or on disaster response duty.

I am in favor of updating our current Emergency Management statutes to reflect the increased threat of bioterrorism. I veto this bill, however, because it hinders, rather than helps, the State's response to such disasters.

The Department of Health - one of the State's lead response agencies - has requested a veto of this bill for a number of reasons. First, the due process requirements, while manageable in connection with a small outbreak, would cripple the operations of the Department in a large scale disaster. Instead of fighting bioterrorism, this bill would require the Department to use its limited resources to obtain court orders and attend hearings. The early detection and rapid containment of biological agents is critical to limiting the risk of injury and death in the event of a bioterrorism attack. The due process provisions of this bill do not assist in the Departments critical detection and containment mission.

Second, some of the reporting requirements actually decrease the effectiveness of the Department and other state agencies in detecting possible biological toxins or bioterrorism agents. For example, current regulations require immediate reporting; this bill would extend that period to twenty-four (24) hours, delaying the Department's response and treatment of potentially infected individuals and further reducing the effectiveness of the State's reaction.

The Department has also expressed concern over changes made to the laws relating to quarantine and isolation, and specifically the authorization required for quarantine. The new proposed standards for authorizing a quarantine have not been adequately researched or reviewed by public health and medical experts, legal experts, emergency response agencies and concerned citizens. Changes to the laws in this important area should not be made until a comprehensive review of our statutes has been conducted through a coordinated effort of the pertinent local, state and federal agencies.

In addition, the bill's requirement that the Governor detail in an executive order or proclamation what actions are being taken to control an emergency may actually interfere with the progress of emergency response. The disclosure of security measures by police and safety personnel (such as the availability of resources and supplies) to the general public may not always be in the best interest of our State's public safety and security.

Finally, the addition of four more legislators to the Rhode Island Emergency Management Council is unnecessary. There are already thirty one members on this Council, four of whom are legislators, forming the single largest interest group on the Council. An enormous, unwieldy advisory council is antithetical to the notion of efficient, effective emergency management. Moreover, doubling the legislative presence would be yet another incursion into executive functions.

For all these reasons, I disapprove of this legislation and respectfully urge your support of this veto.


Lincoln Almond