Thursday, March 19, 2020

Legal Authorities for Isolation and Quarantine

Update:  I posted the below blog post a few days ago on this site and on my Facebook page.  I got a response from Council member Cortney Johnson that provided a link  and an excerpt from an article on the Tennessee Bar Association webpage.  That article explained that the power of a local government to order the closing of businesses or quarantine or other extraordinary measures is derived from the authority of the State Commissioner of Health. County health directors are appointed by the Commissioner of Health with the concurrence of the county mayor. The local Health Director has broad powers to take action to control an epidemic. To read the article which reference the laws giving local governments this authority see: Tennessee Law in the Time of Pandemic Disease.

In another Facebook post, I asked by what authority the President could exercise extraordinary authority for public health such as ordering closings or restricing internal travel.  Apparently the President has such broad authority. 

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution  list the enumerated powers granted to Congress. Number 3 is "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Congress under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264), granted the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services authority to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states. The authority for carrying out these functions on a daily basis has been delegated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). See : Legal Authorities for Isolation and Quarantine

Does the Metro Board of Health have the authority to close every bar in the county?

by Rod Williams - I am not an attorney and I don't know the answer to a question I have, but I question the authority of the Mayor or the Health Department to close bars on Lower Broadway or  take any other extraordinary action to contain an epidemic. The following is from the Tennessee Code Annotated and it certainly looks like the State could do so.  The highlighting is mine.

It is clear the State commissioner of health has broad powers.

A review of the Metro Charter and the Metro Code says the Metropolitan government has the power "To make regulations to secure the general health of the inhabitants and to prevent, abate and remove nuisances."  And it says, "The board of health, through its chief medical director, shall exercise all the administrative functions of the metropolitan government pertaining to: … The investigation and control of communicable diseases."

That is all kind of general. Is that so open-ended that the Board of Health can close all bars in the County or is the authority to exercise such power found elsewhere in State law or Metro Charter?

Mayor Cooper has said, "The Metro Public Health Department possesses the authority to take extraordinary actions to protect public health."  Maybe he is right, but I wish he would elaborate and tell us the source of that authority.

If the Board of Health has that authority, do they have the authority to close churches?  Do they have the authority to prohibit the Council from meeting?  To cancel an election? To quarantine? To prohibit meetings of more than three people?  What is the punishment for ignoring a Board of Health order?  What is source of the Board's authority and the limit on that authority? I don't know. I think we are owed an explanation.

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