HIV/AIDS: Budget Includes $30M For Drug Assistance Program, Legislature OKs Exposure Bill
California's new state budget includes a $30 million increase for the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which provides anti-HIV drugs to people with low or moderate incomes who are either uninsured or whose insurance does not cover HIV treatments. With the increase, the program's total budget will be $122 million, which will go toward expanding the program's drug formulary by as many as 50 new drugs. According to Fred Dillon, state policy director for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, "The Governor and the Legislature should be commended for their continued commitment to ensuring that all Californians living with HIV -- and not just those who can afford it -- have access to therapies that can prolong and improve quality of life." A release from the foundation, however, noted that AIDS advocates initially urged the governor to approve $4.2 million more to expand the ADAP formulary even further, in addition to $1 million that would have funded research on organ transplants in people living with HIV, $15 million for housing programs and $800,000 for improved HIV testing and counseling services at family planning clinics. Dillon said, "It is extremely unfortunate that the governor did not agree with the Legislature," which approved the additional funding. He added, "These funding items would have significantly improved our state's ability to serve people living with HIV and those at risk for HIV infection" (San Francisco AIDS Foundation release, 8/21).
The California Legislature approved a bill last week criminalizing intentional HIV infection. The bill now goes to Gov. Pete Wilson (R), who is expected to sign it. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the bill contains provisions "weaker" than those originally introduced by state Sen. Richard Rainey (R), which would have made it illegal for a person to have "unprotected sex while knowing they were HIV positive." Under the approved version of the bill, it would be a crime to "deliberately infect" another person with HIV. "[T]he defendant would either have to admit guilt or demonstrate a pattern of such reckless behavior" as to prove intent. The felony crime would be punishable by as many as eight years in prison.
Who Needs It?
AIDS advocates criticized the bill, saying it is "an unnecessary smear against people with the disease." Fred Dillon, state policy director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, "said no sane person condones infecting another with the virus, and the bill unfairly implies that society needs special protection from people who have the disease." Eileen Hansen of AIDS Legal Referral added that "the bill is unnecessary because current 'assault with a deadly weapon' statutes could be used to prosecute someone who deliberately infects another with any deadly disease." However, Cory Salzillo, a Rainey aide, contended that the law is necessary because "California judges have tossed out assault cases against men with AIDS who were alleged to have intentionally infected their girlfriends."
The Chronicle reports that the bill's passage preceded legislative debate over "the more contentious issue of reporting HIV infections to public health authorities." A bill sponsored by state Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D) -- the only legislator to vote against the HIV criminalization law -- "would establish a system of reporting HIV cases to health departments under a special code that could not be used to identify a specific patient." Hansen and other AIDS advocates hold that names-based reporting systems discourage testing. Hansen added that "a combination of names reporting and laws that criminalize HIV infection is troubling," noting, "we've seen efforts to link the names in other states to other departments for prosecution purposes." The legislature "is expected to take up the HIV reporting bills by midweek" (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/22).