Bioterrorism bill gets first OK

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Concerns about terrorism in Missouri prompted the Senate to give initial approval Tuesday to a bill strengthening the state's ability to respond to a biological attack.

The bill, which requires a final Senate vote before moving to the House, stemmed from the Sept. 11 attacks and the discovery of anthrax-tainted mail at scattered locations nationwide, including a Kansas City postal facility.

The legislation attempts to balance personal rights with public health needs and tries "to draw in the various aspects of bioterrorism and how we deal with it in Missouri," said Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, the bill's sponsor.

The bill also would close information to the public regarding security at government buildings, although the total costs associated with security measures would be open.

"I think it's important that we have some protections over those discussions," said Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, who sponsored that provision.

Added to Singleton's bill Tuesday was a provision that would close records involving utilities that may be vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

'Clear and present danger'

Under the legislation, the governor could declare an emergency if there were a "clear and present danger" of a biological attack. That would activate a disaster response and recovery plan, as well as the deployment and use of state personnel and supplies.

The bill would make it a felony to fail to perform or submit to medical tests for infectious, contagious, communicable or dangerous diseases during a declared emergency.

Another section would allow health care professionals licensed in other states to work in Missouri during emergencies under the direction of the state Department of Health and Senior Services. They would be licensed for two weeks in Missouri and could have their licenses reissued every two weeks thereafter.

Gov. Bob Holden has made anti-terrorist legislation a priority this session. If approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, the legislation would go into effect immediately.

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