Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gay rights advocate says compromise reached on quarantine bill

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

A gay rights advocate said Thursday a compromise has been reached on a bill that could result in the quarantine of people with AIDS or HIV.

House Bill 2183 would remove a current provision that exempts those with HIV or AIDS from possible quarantine.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials said they wanted to remove the exemption because HIV and AIDS are infectious.

During a hearing on the bill, Paul Marx, an associate chief counsel with KDHE, said there would be no medical reason to isolate or quarantine a person infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS. But Marx added, "I can't say that would never happen, if the virus were to mutate." He added, however, "That is hugely speculative."

Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said he wanted the HIV/AIDS quarantine exemption restored.

During a House-Senate conference committee meeting, it was agreed to include the phrase "medically necessary and reasonable" when dealing with a quarantine issue.

"Since even KDHE publicly concedes there is never a `medically necessary' reason to quarantine someone with HIV, local health officials will not be able to get away with using the new law to justify harassment of people living with HIV/AIDS," Witt said.

Witt added of the compromise, "This is not perfect — no compromise ever is. We would rather see the specific HIV exemption preserved in law. However, given the extremely conservative tilt of our current state government, this is the closest we are going to get to ensuring people are treated fairly."

HB 2183 clarifies procedures on testing a patient for communicable diseases when a health care worker has been exposed to that patient's blood or bodily fluids.