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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: March 21, 2019 08:55 AM
From: Senator Jay Costa
To: All Senate members
Subject: Public Health Emergency Declarations
In the near future, I will be reintroducing Senate Bill 1001 from last session. The legislation will provide the Governor the ability to declare public health emergencies in the event of several types of emergencies. The declaration would last 90 days, unless extended by the Governor.

Currently, the Governor has declared a disaster emergency to provide state government and public health providers with additional tools to fight the opioid epidemic. However, a public health emergency declaration would be better suited for this crisis.

The bill defines a public health emergency as an event that poses an imminent threat and meets two criteria:
  1. Is caused by:
    1. A bioterrorist event, a biological, chemical or nuclear agent, a chemical attack, or a nuclear attack;
    2. The appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease;
    3. A natural disaster, accidental chemical release, or nuclear incident; or
    4. A disease outbreak, including an outbreak of substance use disorder; and
  2. Poses a high probability of:
    1. Deaths;
    2. Serious or long-term disabilities; or
    3. Widespread exposure to an infectious or toxic agent that poses significant risk or substantial present or future harm to a large number of people.
Such a declaration would authorize the Department of Health to waive regulations, create new temporary regulations, publish notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin for tracking and treating a disease, illness, or event, and allow public workers to provide treatment to control the emergency.

Information that is collected by the Department of Health and other government agencies to treat the public health emergency would not be subject to the Right-to-Know Law. And the temporary regulations would not be subject to the Commonwealth Documents Law, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Act, and the Regulatory Review Act. These temporary regulations would expire 90 days following the end of a declaration.

Lastly, the bill provides some immunity from liability for individuals responsible for carrying out the provision of the future act.

Two substantive changes have been made to the legislation to address concerns brought up during discussions in the House. First, the bill explicitly lists substance abuse disorder as a disease that could allow the Governor to order a declaration. Secondly, the General Assembly is given the power to override a declaration, as is currently provided for under existing emergency declarations.

The bill passed the Senate last session by a 49 to 0 vote. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senators Fontana, Schwank, Brewster, Yaw, Sabatina, Hughes, Baker, Yudichak, and Bartolotta last session.

Please join me in cosponsoring the important legislation.

Introduced as SB633