Legislators have approved a trio of AIDS bills designed to protect patients from the public - and the public from patients.
The controversial compromise is the latest step in the state's aggressive campaign against the killer disease."I was impressed that the legislators seemed this year to be better educated about AIDS and less concerned about a need to just do something," said Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. "There was a much more thoughtful approach to the issues around AIDS."
Before the session ended Wednesday, Gov. Norm Bangerter had signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Joseph M. Moody, R-Delta, which protects the confidentiality of people afflicted with communicable diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis and measles.
Under HB6, the names of such patients can be released only when it is deemed essential to prevent the further spread of disease.
Specifically, information can be released only to protect medical and law enforcement personnel in emergencies, for notification of partners, in the investigation of child abuse and to enhance the safety of blood, organs and tissues needed for medical procedures.
A similar bill was passed last year, but was vetoed because amendments created constitutional problems.
Two other AIDS-related bills - both sponsored by Sen. Winn L. Richards, D-Ogden - were also approved by the Legislature. One, SB7, requires doctors and health agencies to report the names of persons diagnosed as carrying the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which causes AIDS.
The other bill, SB15, requires mandatory testing of all Utah State Prison inmates and segregation of those found to carry the virus.
Although the health department was neutral on these two bills, Dandoy said the reporting bill worried department employees. The staff was divided on the issue.
When the bill was amended to allow the Salt Lake City/County Health Department to continue its anonymous testing program, "we became somewhat more comfortable with it," she said.
Neither bill garnered the support of members of the department's AIDS Advisory Committee.
Dandoy said health officials hope to have legislation passed next year dealing with potential discrimination of AIDS patients in housing, education, employment and health care.
AIDS, health bills
Major health bills passed by legislators:
- Ensure confidentiality of people having any communicable disease, including AIDS.
- Mandate that doctors and health agencies report to the Utah Department of Health names of persons diagnosed as having AIDS or HIV.
- Require mandatory testing of all Utah State Prison inmates and segregation of those found to carry the virus.
- Increase the penalty for selling cigarettes to a minor, outlaw smoking in schools and day care centers during school hours and stop vending machine sales except in areas where adolescents don't usually go.
- Prohibit the free distribution of cigarettes.