When Utah's lawmakers meet next month in a special session, they'll be faced with at least one pressing challenge besides deciding how to spend the state's $100 million surplus - how to begin managing the bewildering AIDS health crisis.
"The two AIDS bills will more than likely be placed on the special session agenda," Gov. Norm Bangerter told the Deseret News. "But a formal list of special agenda items will be put out in the next week or two. We hope none of the items will be controversial because we'd like the Legislature to concentrate on the surplus."The governor has not yet issued the official call for the special session, expected to be scheduled sometime in July.
AIDS, the insidious invader that in some communities has thrust widespread fear into overdrive, did ignite controversial and lengthy discussions during the last legislative session. Nevertheless, Utah's first AIDS bills were passed by both the House and Senate.
But both were vetoed by Bangerter.
"In his veto message, the governor asked that the department work on revisions for both of these bills with the understanding that they would be considered for the special session, if one were called," Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the Utah Health Department, told members of the Health Interim Committee on Wednesday. "We worked very rapidly to do that."
Now the legislative committee wants the governor to keep his word.
Members voted Wednesday to urge the governor and legislative leadership to put an amended AIDS bill - relating to emergency medical personnel - on the special session agenda. They also want the subject of confidentiality of communicable disease information discussed - again.
Both bills have been hashed over by medical specialists, law enforcement officers, emergency responders, attorneys, insurance agents and citizens for the past five months. On Wednesday the groups, for the most part, seemed to be in agreement. And because there is no cure for AIDS, they're eager for lawmakers to deal with the long-term consequences of the short-term disease that has already claimed the lives of 83 Utahns and is threatening many more.
Extensive revisions have been made to HB220. The bill, which passed the Legislature, would have allowed emergency medical service providers who had a significant exposure while caring for a patient to request that the patient consent to a blood test to determine th presence of AIDS, HIV infection or hepatitis B. If the patient refused, an emergency medical technician could petition the district court for an order mandating the person to submit to the test.
The governor found the "mandatory" test concept objectionable. He also opposed an amendment that said with the consent of the patient, insurance companies can have access to anything in the medical record - including the results of the AIDS test. The results could also be given to the national insurance clearing house - an action health officials maintained could lead to discrimination against people who test positively for communicable diseases.
The amended draft bill (AIDS Testing, Reporting and Compensation for Emergency Medical Services Providers) gives the patient the right to refuse or consent to the test without consequence - unless that patient has been convicted of a crime and is in the custody or under the jurisdiction of the Utah Department of Corrections.
This section of the bill is supported by the Corrections Department, which hasn't instigated mandatory AIDS testing at its facilities. But it received vocal opposition from an American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman, who believes the measure would violate the rights of the individuals.
The revised bill also sets more specific reporting guidelines and, unlike HB220, provides workmen's compensation for infected emergency medical technicians in specified circumstances.
Because of time constraints, a new draft of SB113, which ensures the confidentiality of persons having any communicable disease, including AIDS, was not discussed by committee members Wednesday. However, because legislators consider confidentiality the cornerstone of all AIDS legislation, committee members want Bangerter to also place it on the special session agenda.