Passage unlikely for Jackson County ‘contagious disease’ ordinance

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A proposal before the Jackson County, Missouri Legislature Monday would take bold steps to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Too bold, according to a large group of skeptical legislators who, for the moment, have taken a hands-off approach.

The discussion largely focused on the potential for abuse of power under the proposed rules. If approved as is, it could lead to some pretty sweeping changes.

Because here’s the thing about this ordinance: the people proposing it say it would be helpful when responding to a lot of health crisis situations involving contagious diseases including Tuberculosis, mumps, even Ebola.

However, when most people hear about the new rules, their minds immediately go to situations involving COVID-19. And a stated motivation for the move is to push back on a court decision out of Cole County, used by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt to threaten lawsuits if information is share between agencies including health departments and school districts.

Theresa Cass Galvin, 6th District Legislator, is firmly on the ‘no’ side of the ordinance which she said is provoking her constituents.

“I will tell you, starting Saturday morning, since then I’ve received over 50 emails and they are all against this ordinance,” she said.

“I think, as it’s written, it doesn’t have the legs to pass,” she said.

But one of the authors of the legislation, 2nd District At-Large Legislator Crystal Williams, said that the response from these vocal constituents represents a different issue.

“I’m going to say that they don’t like this particular language maybe perhaps, but based on the vehemence of what’s said to my office of me being a Communist and a Nazi, they’re not going to like anything that has to do with public health that’s being presented,” Williams said.

Williams said the ordinance is important for public health because it creates a framework for the response to contagious diseases including COVID-19.

Here is where the concerns come in. The health director would have broad authority to investigate including “persons who are suffering from or who have been exposed to communicable diseases…and represent a health threat to others, may be placed under isolation or quarantine restrictions,” according to the proposal.

People could also face punishments for non-compliance.

“One person is given the authority to close down schools and buildings and I think that’s too much. One person is given the authority to have your health records, which I believe goes against HIPAA violations,” Theresa Cass Galvin said.

Jalen Anderson, another sponsor of the ordinance, said aspects of the proposal are being misrepresented.

“The point of taking someone — or having someone out of their home — or closing down a school or those extremes, that is in the upmost most extreme portion of public health when there is a true crisis in which they cannot get a handle on this through all the different precautions that have taken beforehand,” Anderson said.

But this explanations has not calmed expressed concerns over the proposal allowing the county to “inspect any premises that the health director has reasonable grounds to believe are in a condition conducive to the spread of the disease.”

There will be more discussion on the proposal next Tuesday.

Currently Jackson County is operating without any public health order (beyond masking in government buildings) rescinding all mask mandates back in November.

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