TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would give the Governor the authority to declare a public health emergency and take steps to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the emergency was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 39-0.
“In certain situations, the Governor and the State Department of Health need to be able to move quickly when the lives of New Jerseyans are at risk due to a public health crisis,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “This bill gives the State of New Jersey the ability to provide a rapid response to the worst health risks, when the regular governmental deliberation might not be fast enough to stop the spread of an epidemic, or to respond to a bioterrorist threat. The Governor needs the authority to do whatever’s necessary to save New Jerseyans’ lives.”
The bill, S-2085, would expand the powers of the Governor and the State Commissioner of Health and Senior Services in order to rapidly respond to public health emergencies to include planning and executing public health emergency plans, coordinating public health response between State and local authorities, collaborating with relevant federal authorities and agencies of other states, and organizing and dispensing public information regarding health emergencies.
The bill would also allow for the emergency quarantine of individuals who pose a serious health risk to the general population, and would establish a vaccine education and prioritization plan, such as the one used this past winter to combat the shortage of flu vaccines in the State.
“Last year’s flu vaccine shortage is a prime example of why this legislation is so desperately needed,” said Senator Vitale. “To divert a portion of the State’s allotted flu vaccine to the highest risk patients, even when we were all in agreement that it had to be done, still took two days to go through the entire legislative process. In cases of deadly, communicable diseases, two days could mean the difference between health risk and an epidemic, and we need to empower our government officials to act quickly for extreme cases.”
The bill now awaits consideration in the Assembly before going to the Governor to be signed into law. The bill is on the Assembly’s agenda for their voting session on Monday.