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ACLU West Virginia raises concerns about Gov. Justice’s out-of-state travel order

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issued an executive order yesterday, March 30, 2020, requiring those coming to West Virginia from out-of-state to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the Mountain State. His order also authorized the West Virginia State Police to monitor the state roads and highways to enforce the order.

“For those who are crossing our state lines conducting interstate commerce, or commuting for work or essential business, military duty or health and medical care reasons, we don’t want to impede you,” Justice said. “This is aimed at people from Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Italy or China, and other places where COVID-19 has spread substantially. We have to do everything we can to protect our citizens, and these folks have got to self-isolate if they are going to come here.”

However, ACLU West Virginia says it believes this order is an overreach in the government’s ability to restrict travel during an emergency. The organization says any prohibitions on travel must be no more restrictive than necessary, and public officials must provide adequate notice of the restrictions as well as a hearing process allowing those impacted by such policies a fair opportunity to explain why they should not be subjected to the policy. In no case may an executive order override the Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure, according to ACLU West Virginia.

“While COVID-19 presents a serious threat to public health, we must not abandon our core principles of fairness and liberty. This order is overly vague and lacks due process protections. If enforced, it could create even greater public health concerns.”

The organization says the executive order fails in several of these respects. ACLU West Virginia says the order is vague on what constitutes as essential business activity and doesn’t adequately inform someone if they are subject to self-isolate.

“The order offers a non-exhaustive list of places that people coming from are expected to self-isolate,” ACLU West Virginia said on its website. “How would someone coming from a place not listed in the order know if they need to self-isolate?”

ACLU West Virginia also says the order is unclear as to what due process rights someone has to challenge a self-isolation requirement if they feel they are wrongly being required to self- isolate.

“The claimed necessity of the order seems to be undercut by its exceptions. For example, it is unclear why someone coming to West Virginia from “areas with substantial community spread of COVID-19” to engage in essential business activities would be considered less of a threat to public safety than someone coming to visit a family member,” ACLU West Virginia says. “Yet under the executive order, one is permitted to freely travel the state and the other is required to self-isolate.”

The organization is also concerned that the order says anyone who “fails to comply with the terms of this Order and in any way illegally hinders or obstructs, or attempts to hinder or obstruct, any law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity to enforce the terms of this Order” could be considered guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, could face a fine between $50 to $500 dollars and/or up to a maximum of one year in jail. ACLU West Virginia says it believes incarcerating someone who may potentially spread COVID-19 could put inmates, guards and jail staff at risk.

ACLU West Virginia says it also believes highlighting China in the order as a place with “substantial community spread” but failing to list other countries with much higher rates of infection and active cases of COVID-19 could increase the likelihood of anti-Asian discrimination in the region.

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