Byline: P. Douglas Filaroski, Times-Union staff writer
A state still reeling from anthrax attacks is quietly preparing to give health officials the power to quarantine and require vaccinations in a bioterror attack.
Despite civil rights concerns, Gov. Jeb Bush said last week he intends to sign a law expanding the powers of Florida health officials in declaring emergencies.
"I've weighed the civil liberties issues against the needs for us as a state to be prepared, and I think I will sign," Bush said.
Bush's intentions rankled opponents barely heard amid Florida's budget battles this legislative session.
"Obviously, the threat from terrorism is very real," said Jim Frogue of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a state legislators association in Washington. "But the potential for negligence and willful abuse is very apparent."
In the wake of Sept. 11, most states this year considered ways to better prepare for bioterrorism -- an outbreak of smallpox or some other contagious or lethal disease.
Legislators in at least 20 states proposed stiffer quarantine and forced vaccination measures. Four states where opponents raised strong concerns rejected the tougher laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Florida -- the state where the anthrax attacks began -- the legislators' group was joined by a physicians association in voicing concern about health officials being able to declare an emergency and exercise powers for up to 60 days.
The law would allow officials under certain conditions to quarantine and require vaccinations despite a person's health or religious concerns.
The law would also give officials the authority to instruct in-state drugmakers to send medicines to counties deemed most needy in a bioterror attack.
"Imposing medical treatment on unwilling citizens at gunpoint, obliterating informed consent and due process of law, could be disastrous," said Jane Orient, director of Tucson, Ariz. …