Protection from quarantine for HIV, AIDS patients is discriminatory, state senator says

? A bill that a leading gay rights advocate says will lead to the harassment of people with AIDS appears headed toward approval.

House Bill 2183 would repeal a 25-year-old law that prohibits state and local health officials from quarantining people with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Republicans, who are in the majority of a House-Senate conference committee working on the bill, said they are OK with the repeal and didn’t think it would lead to people with AIDS or HIV being quarantined.

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, the chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said she believes that excluding patients with AIDS or HIV from the quarantine provision was discriminatory.

“I don’t think we want our laws to be discriminatory,” said Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee. “The whole point of the law is to treat everybody equal.”

HB 2183 started out as legislation sought by emergency personnel aimed at clarifying procedures on testing a patient for communicable diseases when a health care worker has been exposed to that patient’s blood or bodily fluids. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment then sought a change in the bill that would get rid of the exemption for HIV/AIDS from quarantine.

KDHE officials have said there would be no medical reason to quarantine someone with AIDS or HIV, but that it is an infectious disease. They have agreed to include the phrase “medically necessary and reasonable” when dealing with the quarantine issue.

State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, proposed putting the current exemption from quarantine for HIV/AIDS back into the bill. But Pilcher-Cook said she couldn’t agree to that.

“This really hits to the heart of our Constitution … or the Declaration of Independence that ‘All men are created equal,’ ” she said– and excluding HIV and AIDS from quarantine would be discriminatory.

But Ward argued there are many areas of law that provide protections for people in specific classes and situations.

Tom Witt, director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, which advocates for gay and lesbian rights, said there is no reason to strike the current prohibition on quarantine for HIV and AIDS. “It’s for administrative convenience only,” Witt said.

Witt said he feared that without the specific prohibition on quarantine for HIV and AIDS, people with the infection will be harassed.

“We’ve been getting a lot information from other states, which don’t have an exclusion, about how local health officials do harass people with HIV,” he said. “The reason there hasn’t been any harassment in Kansas is because it has been against the law. Now, they’re going to make it legal on its face to threaten people with HIV quarantine.”

While Pilcher-Cook said a “special carve-out in the law for HIV” was discriminatory, she added that she didn’t believe anyone with HIV or AIDS would be subject to a quarantine without the exclusion.

“There’s a whole series of steps KDHE would have to take to prove that it was medically necessary and reasonable and the onus would be on them (KDHE) in the court system to prove it,” she said.

HIV is spread most often through sexual contact, contaminated needles of syringes, infected blood, or from infected women to their babies at birth or through breastfeeding.