Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the government has already drafted a mandatory evacuation bill.
“That legislation has been drafted and is ready to go,” Bethel told reporters outside Cabinet.
“It’ll be ready for October. We did an initial draft and there [were] some constitutional concerns, but we believe the draft that we now have in hand – subsequent to the hurricane – has been crafted to avoid any constitutional entanglements.
“The sticking point was the use of the word ‘emergency’ which has a peculiar meaning in the constitution and reserves the power to the governor general to make the proclamation of a public emergency and emergency powers.
“That’s an extraordinary step that has not yet been invoked in our country and the drafting of the law has been as such as to avoid that constitutional complication.”
Bethel said the proposed bill will be an amendment to the Disaster Preparedness and Response Act.
The attorney general said the government will also look at some other “aspects of conduct that have manifested themselves as [of] late” and maybe make additional proposals to the amendment.
He said it will capture issues like printing or publishing “false, maliciously untrue” content that is “designed to incite public fear, terror or anxiety”.
“We, as a people, really cannot have a situation where in the name of free speech, people are [permitted] to invent stories, in our view in some cases maliciously, in order to create fear, public hysteria, public concern and also to thereby disrupt the lawful actions of relief agencies, the government and NEMA,” Bethel said.
He said the amendment would allow the prime minister – through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) – to declare a local disaster area “and in the context of that declaration of a local disaster or threatened disaster to make orders for mandatory evacuations”.
Days before Hurricane Dorian made landfall on Abaco, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government intended to introduce mandatory evacuation legislation when Parliament resumes.
On September 10, 2017, Minnis said his administration planned on tabling a mandatory evacuation bill on September 13.
However, that never happened.
After the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, then Prime Minister Perry Christie also suggested that mandatory evacuations were needed in The Bahamas.