TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida’s top health official could soon have expanded powers to isolate people suspected of being infected with severe diseases.
The Florida Legislature on Thursday sent to Gov. Rick Scott a bill that would bolster the power of the State Surgeon General to place people suspected or likely having a disease into isolation and quarantine. The measure was unanimously passed by both the House and Senate.
The legislation also would allow state health officials to use police to enforce an order.
The bill comes a few months after state officials complained about how federal officials were handling Ebola cases.
Last fall, Gov. Rick Scott gave state health officials the authority to do twice-daily monitoring of individuals arriving from places the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated as affected by Ebola.
Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican and a surgeon who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is meant to clarify in state law what actions state health officials can take.
The legislation (HB 697) defines isolation and quarantine.
Someone can be isolated if it is reasonably believe they have a communicable disease, while quarantine is to separate someone who has been exposed to a disease but it not yet showing symptoms. The bill would also make it clear that any orders to isolate or quarantine someone can be enforced by a police or law-enforcement officer.
The state has used its quarantine power in the past, including a quarantine of a building that was the target of an anthrax attack in 2001. However, the last time the state issued an involuntary order was 1947, according to the state Senate.