TOPEKA, KS (March 21, 2013)-AIDS and community advocacy groups expressed alarm over the passage of a public health bill in Kansas that could, potentially, allow the quarantine of people living with HIV/AIDS. The bill intent was a broad effort to bring all infectious diseases under one statute, making it easier for first responders to get a test after a potential exposure, rather than an attempt to quarantine people with HIV; however, efforts to clarify the language via amendment were rejected.
Kansas House Bill 2183 updates the state’s public health statute by allowing quarantine of Kansans with infectious diseases. The bill passed in the Kansas Senate yesterday despite Senator Marci Francisco’s (D, Lawrence) effort to restore an amendment providing an exclusion for people living with HIV/AIDS. Francisco argued the disease is not spread through casual contact and that the bill could foster or permit harassment and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.
“KEC is incredibly disappointed that the Kansas Legislature has removed protections for people with HIV that have been in place for over a quarter century,” said Tom Witt, Executive Director of Kansas Equality Coalition (KEC), which fights against discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans-genders (LGBT) in hiring, housing, harassment and bullying in Kansas and currently has chapters in KC Metro, Hutchinson, Northwest Kansas, Lawrence/Douglas County, Riley/Geary Counties, North Central Kansas, Southeast Kansas, Southwest Kansas, Topeka, Central Plains, and Wichita/Sedgwick County. “Granting the power to quarantine people living with HIV to local officials is a recipe for abuse and discrimination.”
“We live in a very conservative state and I’m afraid there are still many people, especially in rural Kansas, that have inadequate education and understanding concerning HIV/AIDS,” said Cody Patton, Executive Director of Positive Directions (PDIKS) “My fear would not be the state uses the law as some way to move all people living with HIV/AIDS into an isolated community, but that this law could allow some county employee to use this law to justify their religious beliefs over their professional responsibilities and discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS.”
“I am disappointed and saddened that people living with HIV/AIDS are no longer exempt from quarantine under current law in Kansas. The Kansas Senate has voted to pass HB 2183 and has rejected the amendment to exempt people living with HIV/AIDS,” said Elena Ivanov, Executive Director, Douglas County AIDS Project (DCAP). “This bill will harm people living with HIV/AIDS and stands as poor public health policy. Under the bill people who have HIV can be separated and have their movement in Kansas restricted. The use of quarantine and isolation powers by the state officials will exasperate many sensitive issues related to the civil liberties of these individuals and create unnecessary and prolonged hardships for all those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. This bill will further decrease their low self-esteem and deepen their suffering from anxiety and depression. Moreover, it will further increase the stigma, associated with the chronic disease and hamper the efforts of organizations, such as Douglas County AIDs Project (DCAP), which combat its spread. These individuals will now worry about punishment, fines, and imprisonment if they refuse to be isolated by the state authorities or if the quarantine order established by the Kansas Senate is broken”.
“By including HIV/AIDS in this updated law permitting public health quarantine, Kansas legislators harken back to the earliest, darkest days of the AIDS epidemic when Lyndon LaRouche led an unsuccessful effort in California in 1986 to quarantine people with AIDS through California’s Proposition 64—a ballot measure that was resoundingly rejected by California voters by a 71% to 29% margin,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). “At best, it is shortsighted of Kansas legislators to reject Senator Francisco’s amendment: it either shows how little they understand about HIV and how it is transmitted—it is not spread through casual contact such as TB or other airborne communicable diseases—or it shows that they, like LaRouche, want the ability to quarantine people, and/or discriminate against them in other ways as they see fit. For the Senators, either choice shows a real lack of understanding about public health and safety—one of the most basic services that is government’s role to ensure.”