NYS Assembly Set to Discuss Bill Giving Cuomo Authority to Remove and Detain People He Deems Public Health Risks

By: - January 4, 2021

A bill that has been prefiled for the 2021 NYS Legislative Session could mean New Yorkers are subject to being forcibly detained if simply suspected of being a health risk. The Bill, A416 was introduced by Assemblyman Nick Perry from District #58, which encompasses the Flatbush area. The original version was first submitted as A6891, for the 2015-2016 Session. This bill  is an amendment to the Public Health Law and the first lines describe it as: 

AN ACT to amend the public health law, in relation  to  the  removal  of cases,  contacts  and carriers of communicable diseases who are potentially dangerous to the public health.

The “cases contacts and carriers” referred to are people. The bill allows for the Governor, in the event he has declared a state of health emergency due to an epidemic of any communicable disease, to consult with his commissioner and determine that one or more people must be removed and detained in “a medical facility or other appropriate facility or premises delegated by the governor or his or her delegee..” A person must only meet unspecified criteria to be suspected of being contagious, and displaying unspecified behavior that is determined to be a threat to public health, to be detained.

How long this detainment lasts varies. One section states it  lasts until that person is determined not to be contagious (either the person was never contagious at all or is no longer contagious). Another states this detainment shall not last longer than three consecutive business days but adds provisions for that period to be extended. Five days and ninety days are noted as benchmarks for court appearances and hearings. 

Each person detained is afforded the “right to be heard,” and efforts will be made to contact friends and family on behalf of each detainee “to the extent feasible” to a “reasonable number.” It is unclear why any person being detained as a health risk cannot simply use their personal cell phone to contact people, themselves. Each person is entitled to a copy of the order against them- unless that person was detained in a large group. In that case, where so many people are “removed and detained” at once, it may be impractical to issue individual copies, and copies will instead be posted visibly for people to read. Each person is entitled to legal counsel, as well, “if and to the extent possible under the circumstances.”

Detainment is described as “in a manner that is consistent with recognized isolation and infection control principles in order to minimize the likelihood of transmission of infection to such person and to others.” A statement is included that detainees “shall not conduct himself or herself in a disorderly manner, and shall not attempt to leave such facility or premises until he or she is discharged, pursuant to this section.”

In the final sections of this bill, one more caveat is added: “… the governor or his or her delegee may, in his or her discretion, issue and seek enforcement of any other orders that he or she determines is necessary or appropriate to prevent dissemination or transmission of contagious diseases or other illness that may pose a threat to the public health.” Whether confined at home or elsewhere, that person will be subject to any vaccine or treatment deemed necessary, with less grounds to be heard or legally represented than others who are forcibly detained.

The power to determine a person or persons meet these criteria and thus must be removed and detained trickles down to the commissioner and heads of local health departments. It applies to individuals and groups, en masse, who are identified as threats. 

The NYS Legislative Session convenes on January 6, 2021. While the nation’s eyes are on Congress and Washington DC, this bill could be introduced and passed on the floor. Should it reach the governor and be signed into law, it will become effective 30 days from that date.