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Vitale ‘Emergency Health Powers Act’ Becomes Law

Bill to Ensure Rapid Response to Health Emergencies Signed by Acting Governor

JERSEY CITY – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would give the Governor and the State Commissioner of Health greater authority to declare a public health emergency and give them access to the tools necessary to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the emergency was signed into law today.

Vitale joined Acting Governor Albio Sires when he signed the bill at Jersey City Medical Center.

“We’ve seen firsthand in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that emergency planning can mean the difference between life and death,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “New Jersey needs to be prepared to respond quickly and efficiently in the face of natural disaster or terrorist attack. The Emergency Health Powers Act gives state and local emergency response personnel the tools and authority to do whatever’s necessary to preserve life.”

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, establish a database of first responders to make contacting the appropriate emergency response personnel easier, and 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.

“The Emergency Health Powers Act takes into account a broad spectrum of possible emergency scenarios and provides for a reasonable response to protect the health and safety of our State’s residents,” said Senator Vitale. “Taking a week to respond to an emergency, as we saw with FEMA’s (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) response to Hurricane Katrina, is wholly inexcusable when lives hang in the balance. This law will ensure that in a worst case scenario, the State of New Jersey will be able to provide the coordinated response necessary to minimize the danger and save lives.”

The bill was approved by the Senate and the Assembly in June.

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