November 30, 2004
Commissioner Gilbertson noted that Alaska's basic public health authority was established in state law in 1949 when Alaska was still a territory, and referred to advances in public health and medicine over the past 50 years, as well as the evolution in the legal system's approach to due process protections for individual rights.
In his remarks to the hundreds of public health professionals from across the state, Commissioner Gilbertson said, "Establishing this new law is not only the necessary thing to do, it is the right thing to do, ethically, as well. The public has a right to know, through the legislative process, the actions that government will take to protect our communities from health concerns."
The new legislation will:
Alaska's public health laws were scrutinized as recently as last year. In 2003, the World Health Organization issued the first global health alert in a decade because of 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 in case isolation was required of suspected SARS patients. Questions about the legal authority to impose isolation and quarantine measures forced the Legislature to react quickly. The Legislature passed a bill to provide legal guidelines for SARS control specifically and health officials and legislative leaders discussed the need for a comprehensive rewrite of public health law.
"We need to prepare now so we are able to act quickly to protect the public from unnecessary death and disability in the event of a public health emergency," said Murkowski. The public health legislation is currently still in draft form, but will be available for public viewing after it is officially introduced to the Legislature in January.
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