The bills will be more sensational than a year ago, and the debate equally as heated when legislators next month attempt to mount a battle plan against the deadly AIDS virus, which already has claimed the lives of 106 Utahns.
Since reporting began, the State Department of Health has recorded 158 cases of AIDS in Utah. Following a recent departmental appeal to health officials statewide, three new cases were recently reported.State epidemiologist Craig Nichols said the department has also received calls from physicians who have additional cases to report. Nichols estimates that the number of HIV carriers varies widely, from 2,000 to 4,000, and at least 50 percent to 80 percent of those carrying HIV eventually will contract AIDS.
Nationally there has been a steady increase in cases.
Utah, Nichols believes, will follow that trend and AIDS will be a major topic of discussion at the Legislature.
But both human rights advocates and health officials are confident there'll be fewer of the cultural clashes that marked lawmakers' first attempt last year to deal with the killer disease. Off-the-cuff remarks and proposals for AIDS victims to be "painted red" aren't likely to be repeated, Nichols said. "There are some legislators who made comments they wish they could have recalled after the fact."
"We have to start treating this like a disease and not a moral issue," said Sen. Winn L. Richards, D-Ogden, sponsor of two of the three AIDS-related bills pre-filed for the Legislature's 1989 general session.
However, the bill receiving the strongest criticism is Richard's bill that would require mandatory reporting of people who test positive for the Human Immune Deficiency Virus that causes AIDS.
Critics contend that homosexuals and intravenous drug abusers - those at greatest risk of contracting HIV - will stay away from testing centers for fear their names will not be kept confidential.
"We feel it will drive the problem underground. People who are beginning to develop signs and symptoms of the disease will refuse to be tested and could go on to develop full-blown AIDS without the benefit of therapy, including AZT treatment," said David Shapton, director of People With AIDS Coalition. "This could result in an increase of AIDS patients, causing a financial burden on the state."
Ben Barr, executive director of Salt Lake AIDS Foundation, said legislators have to realize there are differences between AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. "Richards, in particular, needs to recognize that people with AIDS are frightened, and we have to reassure them that they are going to be protected. The mandatory reporting bill does just the opposite."
Barr said it also makes him uncomfortable to see the Legislature setting policies for health professionals.
A bill calling for mandatory reporting of HIV was vetoed earlier this year by Gov. Norm Bangerter on the advice of the attorney general's office, which concluded the constitutionality of mandatory testing would be difficult to defend unless some positive benefit could be shown.
Richards thinks that evidence of such benefit has been shown in Colorado, which has the highest per capita rate of testing for AIDS, despite mandatory reporting.
"The trend in Utah has been to protect the person with AIDS. That's important, but we also need to keep people from catching the disease," he said.
Richards' second bill calls for mandatory testing of prison inmates.
A third AIDS bill, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Moody, R-Delta, is designed to strengthen laws protecting the privacy of AIDS patients.
"The Department of Health proposed this bill and strongly endorses it," Nichols said.
The bill clarifies the ability of the health department to do partner notification and to share data with the National Centers for Disease Control. It also allows the Bureau of Epidemiology to release the names of individuals suffering from serious infectious diseases to blood and organ banks, thus reducing the possibility of someone with hepatitis, malaria, syphilis or HIV from being accepted as donors.
Nichols said the banks would be alerted not to accept blood or organs from a certain person. However, the disease itself would not be disclosed. The organ or blood bank would be under the same restrictions of confidentiality as is the Department of Health.
But Sharpton maintains the bill doesn't go far enough. Private physician records, he said, should be protected in the same manner as health department records.
Nichols said it's too early to suppose that all the AIDS bills have been filed. The issue of whether to impose mandatory testing of engaged couples, and others, are still unsettled.
"AIDS will clearly be a major topic of discussion," the health official said. "It's also clear that AIDS legislation, like many other issues, is complex and it's not going to be easy to arrive at solutions."