Bill lets Texas governor declare infectious disease disaster

FILE. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

AUSTIN (AP) — Should Ebola or another infectious disease plague Texas again, the governor may declare a state of emergency and cede control of the situation to a state commissioner, under a bill the Texas Senate passed Tuesday.

The measure cleared the upper chamber 25-5 and now heads to the House.

Georgetown Republican Charles Schwertner, a physician, said his bill addresses vulnerabilities exposed last year when a Liberian man contracted Ebola and died in Dallas. Two nurses also contracted the disease but survived.

Schwertner said Texas avoided a wider outbreak, but “we are foolish to think that something like this will not happen in the future.”

The bill would also permit law enforcement to detain someone who may be infected for 24 hours. It specifies if the person is infected with, has been exposed to, or is the carrier of a communicable disease.

Schwertner said the legislation is the first of its kind nationwide.

Texas’ health commissioner already can issue “control orders” restricting the travel and movement of people infected with, or at risk of spreading, infectious diseases. But there are no legal consequences until someone violates those orders.

Former Gov. Rick Perry said that provision was so problematic that it prompted him in October to urge President Barack Obama to impose an air travel ban from countries hardest-hit by Ebola.

The new bill allows for immediate quarantine enforcement and says police can detain individuals under a “control order” for up to a full day.

Perry left office in January but is expected to announce a 2016 presidential run soon.

The issue flared up even more publicly for another likely 2016 hopeful, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who imposed a mandatory quarantine on health workers returning from West Africa.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, who made a flight connection in Newark, was quarantined in a hospital isolation tent even though she tested negative for Ebola. Hickox complained her civil rights were violated, but Christie was undeterred.

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