NEW JERSEY: Partner Notification Bill Clears Committee
The New Jersey Assembly Health Committee yesterday unanimously passed a bill that would require state Department of Health and Senior Services officials to contact individuals who test positive for HIV and ask them "to voluntarily divulge the names of people" they might have infected, the Trenton Times reports. The bill, A654, now goes to the full Assembly for a vote. State Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk (R), the bill's sponsor and chair of the Health Committee, "envision[s] a system in which the state health department would telephone each person whose name is reported to the state HIV and AIDS registry," although the implementation details are not clear. Since 1991, the state has required "public clinics and private doctors to report the names of all people who test positive for HIV." However, 16 of the 24 state-funded clinics allow patients to be tested anonymously. When the issue of confidentiality arose during the hearing, Vandervalk gave assurances that the "state would be 'very sensitized to what could go wrong,'" and would handle the calls "in a very professional way" (Dee, 10/6).
Passage of the "controversial" bill caught New Jersey HIV/AIDS activists "off guard," the AP/Asbury Park Press reports. Riki Jacobs, executive director of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation in New Brunswick, and other activists "didn't realize Vandervalk's bill would mandate that a state worker contact people ... without giving them a chance to say they don't want to hear back from the state." Jacobs said the bill is a "definite invasion of a person's privacy," and she "fears the bill would erode confidentiality and discourage people" from getting tested (10/6). Jacobs also said that "[e]veryone whose name is already on the state registry has a right to be concerned about the bill as well, because it allows the state to contact anyone on the list, regardless of when they were tested or when their name was reported." She added, "It would scare people to think their name would be released when they had been told it would be filed in a registry and not subject to staff perusal" (Trenton Times, 10/6). Click here to read previous Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report coverage of partner notification laws. The free report is available online at www.kff.org.