Public Health Emergencies/Bioterrorism
Recent events at home and abroad have precipitated a reassessment of America’s public health infrastructure and its capacity to respond to major public health emergencies arising from acts of bioterrorism or naturally occurring epidemics. The specter of bioterrorism or pandemic influenza has led to a thorough review of the nation’s readiness to respond to environmental hazards and naturally occurring communicable disease outbreaks. The threat of highly infectious, pathogenic microbial agents unleashing an unprecedented path of human suffering and death is no longer dismissed as a remote possibility. In the last five years, the Federal Government, in partnership with State and local governments, non-governmental organizations, public health authorities, health care institutions, emergency management agencies and concerned private organizations, has initiated efforts to refurbish the public health infrastructure of this country and prepare Americans for the potential ravages of human acts of bioterrorism and the naturally occurring spread of epidemic disease.
In our system of constitutional federalism, governmental units at the federal, state and local level share responsibility for protection of public health. The Congress enjoys express power under the Commerce Clause to regulate activities occurring between states which fall within the general province of governmental responsibility. The President enjoys express and implicit constitutional authority to preserve common order and, in concert with the States, to take necessary measures to protect the public health and preserve public order. The principal legal authority of the States is derived from the police power, specifically reserved to the States under the Tenth Amendment. As noted by James Madison in The Federalist Papers, the police power is specifically reserved to the States and extends “to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern[s] the lives, liberties and property of the people, and the internal order, improvement and prosperity of the State”. Pursuant to their inherent police powers, State governments have authority to exercise, subject to countervailing constitutional restraints, the requisite powers necessary and proper to preserve public order, health, welfare and safety.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Public Health Preparedness have prepared a “Maine Emergency Public Health Law” manual. The purpose of this manual is to provide brief summaries of the legal authority vested in the federal, state and local governments to respond to major public health threats in order to acquaint the reader with the relevant sources of governmental powers, and the constitutional restrictions upon the exercise of such powers, in order to protect the public health in periods of public health emergency. The manual was designed as a public health law primer to state public health officials and judicial officers, and primarily focuses upon the explicit and dormant powers available to Maine state government to respond to extreme public health emergencies.
To obtain a full copy of the manual, contact: Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness
286 Water Street, 8th Floor
11 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0011
Phone: (207) 287-3796
Fax: (207) 287-4612