A controversial bill in Kansas that has caused outcry from groups like the National Minority AIDS Council appears to be on track for approval by House and Senate negotiators, paving the way for passage by both chambers.
The bill, backed by the state health department, would give public health officers the authority to directly respond when certain kinds of health workers or patients may have an occupational exposure to an infectious disease. Imagine someone accidently getting pricked by a needle that was used by another person.
Charlie Hunt, the state’s epidemiologist, said the new legislation came about because that ability to address possible infectious disease exposures, such with follow-up testing on that source patient, has been limited by definition in state statute to just HIV/AIDS.
“It doesn’t apply to hepatitis B or C or a broad array of other infectious diseases,” Hunt said.
The new legislation would expand that. But critics worry it actually paves the way for discrimination against people with HIV.
“We’re opening a door here in Kansas that’s been closed for 25 years, and should just stay shut,” Witt said.
This concern has caught the attention of groups outside of Kansas and has also been abuzz in online forums.
Representative Dave Crum, of Augusta, said he has received calls from around the country, but he’s worried the bill has been largely misunderstood.
“This isn’t an HIV bill,” Crum said. “lt’s a communicable disease bill to protect EMS personnel from being exposed to any communicable disease. So that if they are, they can obtain a report on type of communicable disease the particular source patient may have so they can be treated effectively.”
Witt, however, isn’t satisfied with that explanation. He said in states that don’t have that quarantine exemption, there have been isolated cases of local health officials harassing people with HIV.
In an effort to reconcile these concerns, the state Senate amended the House approved version of the bill last week, adding that any instance of quarantining a person would only occur under ‘medically necessary and reasonable’ circumstances. Circumstances that Hunt, with the state Health department, says would never apply to people with HIV.
Some lawmakers want that specified in the bill. Hunt countered that’s what the state health department’s public rules development process for dealing with exposure to specific infectious diseases is for.
Negotiators from the Senate and House debated proposed revisions yesterday, with four of the six members who were involved signing off on the Senate approved version. The group will likely move some form of the legislation out of their committee by the end of the week. They’re slated to meet again Thursday afternoon.
If approved, the legislation would then go back to the full House and Senate for a final vote.