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Governor Introduces New Public Health Bill
Legislation also introduced to replace aging, unsafe state virology laboratory


January 22, 2005

Juneau, Alaska ­ Governor Frank H. Murkowski on Friday introduced new Public Health legislation updating statutes established during Alaska's territorial days. The legislation will ensure public health experts have more clearly defined legal authorities to identify and control newly emerging and existing health threats while continuing to protect the individual rights of Alaskans.

"We need to prepare now so we are able to act quickly to protect the public from unnecessary deaths and injuries in the event of a public health emergency," said Murkowski.

The new legislation will:

  • Provide clear authority for control threats to public health through epidemiologic surveillance
    and investigation, and quarantine and isolation,
  • Require protection of individual rights through modern due process provisions, and
  • Strengthen requirements for confidentiality and security of health records.

"Alaska's basic public health authority was established in law in 1949 when Alaska was still a territory," Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson commented regarding the announcement. "The Murkowski Administration has recognized that new challenges in public health required that we must be prepared to meet the threats posed by terrorism and emerging diseases of the 21st Century."

Alaska's public health laws were scrutinized as recently as 2003 when the World Health Organization issued the first global health alert in a decade, regarding Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). While the state braced for the annual influx of visitors and seasonal workers, Alaska public health officials asked that court orders be prepared to allow isolation of suspected SARS patients if necessary. Questions about the legal authority to impose isolation and quarantine measures forced the Legislature to act quickly. A bill was passed by the Legislature to provide legal guidelines specifically for SARS control. Health officials and legislative leaders also began to discuss the need for a comprehensive rewrite of public health law.

The governor also introduced legislation Friday to replace the Alaska State Virology Laboratory in Fairbanks. The Fairbanks lab routinely tests for such diseases as rabies, influenza, SARS, West Nile Virus, Norovirus, hepatitis, HIV, measles, mumps and rubella. It also plays a vital role in the annual world-wide surveillance for influenza. Diseases such as SARS, rabies, Norovirus, West Nile Virus and influenza have significant health and financial impacts on Alaskans.

The current laboratory facility is outdated, while the need for rapid and accurate virology lab services is critical to our state. DHSS has made a $24.2 million capital budget request to build the new virology laboratory on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Co-location of the Alaska State Virology Laboratory on the UAF campus will result in increased collaboration and scientific expertise of both academic researchers and public health practice. The developing human and genetics missions of UAF provide a natural fit for a state public health lab located on the same campus (this mission emphasis of UAF is new in recent years).


Related Information:

pdf Fact Sheet: New Fairbanks Virology Lab to Continue Vital Testing

pdf Fact Sheet: Public Health Law Reform in Alaska


Source of News Release:

Office of the Governor
Web Site


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Ketchikan, Alaska