- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota could more easily respond to deadly disease outbreaks under a measure passed Tuesday in the state House of Representatives.

The bill, brought by the state Department of Health, would modernize the state’s authority to respond to serious communicable diseases. Despite passing the House 41-27 following an amendment that narrowed its scope, the bill faced opposition from lawmakers concerned that it gave the state too much authority.

Health officials said the state’s laws are antiquated and need to be updated to protect South Dakotans from modern diseases that are easily spread, like the Ebola virus.

The proposal originally gave the state the authority to monitor, quarantine or isolate people suspected or confirmed of having a top-tier communicable - or Category 1 - disease. It was amended Tuesday to cover just five, including Ebola and Tuberculosis, which has been on the books for more than 50 years.

The Health Department said it limited the scope of the bill to alleviate fears of government overreach while still giving the state enough power to protect the public’s health.

“True, if someone comes back to this country and has been exposed to Ebola, they may have their personal liberties restricted for a brief period of time until we know they’re safe,” said Rep. Karen Soli, a Sioux Falls Democrat. “For me, that’s a small thing that for the safety of all of us, I don’t have any problem at all with this taking place.”

Rep. Lynn DiSanto, a Rapid City Republican, followed Soli with an often-cited quote from Benjamin Franklin about liberty and safety. DiSanto said the proposal would infringe upon the freedom of people to make their own decisions about their health.

“Do not let the scare of Ebola lead us into making a hasty decision that has a far-reaching impact,” she said. “When the government decides to make mandatory any health concern, they remove the liberty and relationship between a patent and their health care provider.”

Under the existing law, it’s a misdemeanor for anyone who has Tuberculosis to refuse to accept the diagnosis or treatment of their illness or refuse to comply with Health Department orders. The proposed measure would also make it a misdemeanor for the other four diseases the department is proposing: Ebola, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MURS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Smallpox.

The bill passed out of the House on Tuesday would also create a process by which the department could work with the court system to obtain judicial orders for those who refuse comply.

The measure originally had an emergency clause, which means it would take when the governor signs it, but that was removed in an amendment Tuesday.

The bill will now move onto a Senate committee to be heard.


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