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Friday, February 14, 2003

Senate Panel OKs Terror Plan

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
    SANTA FE A proposal to revise government powers and procedures for coping with public health emergencies, such as a biological or chemical terrorist attack, cleared a Senate committee on Thursday.
    The legislation sponsored by Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, would permit state officials to ration health care supplies or regulate the sale and distribution of medical supplies if the governor declares a public health emergency.
    In addition, the legislation would empower the secretary of the Health Department to "utilize, secure or evacuate health care facilities for public use" during such an emergency.
    The bill also spells out procedures for the isolation or quarantine of people, such as during the outbreak of an infectious disease.
    The Public Affairs Committee endorsed the measure.
    The Attorney General's Office, Health Department and Department of Public Safety worked on the legislation during the past year and conducted public hearings across the state. The bill is part of a package of measures intended to update homeland security laws in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
    Before approving the bill, the committee agreed to changes to refine several provisions.
    Robert Johnson, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, expressed support for the revisions.
    However, he said other changes were needed to improve the bill. For instance, he said, the measure lacks job protections for a person who is quarantined and unable to go to work.
    The legislation was changed to limit the immunity of the state for deaths or injury or damage to property from government officials trying to respond to a health threat.