Two controversial AIDS bills have successfully survived the first leg of the 1989 legislative marathon.
The Senate Health Standing Committee approved legislation to require the reporting of people who test positive for AIDS, but only after amending the bill to allow the state's only anonymous testing program to continue to operate.The bill, sponsored by Sen. Winn Richards, D-Ogden, sparked nearly two hours of heated testimony on Tuesday by health officials who were openly divided on the issue.
A second bill, also on its way to the full Senate, would require mandatory AIDS testing for all inmates of the Utah State Prison, plus segregation of those who have the disease.
"It doesn't make sense to incarcerate a person for two years and have him come out with a death sentence because of negligence on behalf of the state," said Richards, sponsor of SB15, which had full committee support.
The prison testing bill, however, drew opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Michelle Parish-Pixler, spokeswoman for the Utah Chapter of the ACLU, told the committee that segregating AIDS carriers would expose them to animosity and violence from other inmates. She said it would also encourage homosexual relations among inmates who do not test positive because they will lose the fear of contracting it.
One committee member didn't buy that argument. "I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU and a liberal, and I am proud of both. But I am a little bothered by an inmate being locked in a cell with a person with AIDS - and not knowing it," said Sen. Frances Farley, D-Salt Lake.
Michael E. Sanders, representing the Department of Corrections' Inspector General's Office, said that without the bill, the state faces the threat of a lawsuit from inmates who may contract the disease from cellmates.
It wasn't such smooth sailing for the AIDS reporting bill. In addition to pitting county health officials against each other, it deadlocked the committee.
Under SB7, private physicians and local health departments would be required to report the names and addresses of persons infected with HIV - the AIDS virus - to the Utah Department of Health.
The bill also requires the health department to conduct contact tracing and warn people who may have been exposed to the disease by an infected person - a program already in practice.
Currently, administrative rules require reporting of anyone diagnosed as having AIDS. But there is no stipulation for reporting HIV carriers.
Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the Utah Department of Health, told the committee that the health department now has the authority to require HIV reporting but has chosen not to do so - yet.
"This is a divisive issue. In fact the staff of the health department was divided almost equally with respect to what our policy on mandatory reporting should be," she said.
The Utah Medical Association likewise has adopted an official position of "neutral."
Dr. Harry Gibbons, Salt Lake City/County Health Department director, said he feared many high-risk individuals would not come in for voluntary testing if anonymity were not guaranteed.
But health officials in Ogden and Provo disagreed and lobbied aggressively for the bill. So did its sponsor.
"AIDS is like an iceberg; we are only seeing the tip. For each case we know about, 10 more (individuals) have it but are unaware of it," Richards said. "If we let this thing run rampant without doing something to address it, then we are derelict in our duty to the people of the state."