Massachusetts House ‘Quietly’ Passes Bill Requiring Criminal Defendants to Disclose HIV Status in Certain Cases
The Massachusetts House on Jan. 24 "quietly" passed a bill (HB 4158) that would allow judges to require state criminal defendants to disclose their HIV status if police, crime victims or others come into contact with their blood or other bodily fluids, the Springfield Union-News reports. Rep. Gale Candaras (D) filed the bill after state Supreme Judicial Court Justice Martha Sosman ruled that state privacy laws prohibit a suspect from being forced to reveal his or her HIV status. Those who are exposed to HIV can reduce the risk of transmission if they receive post-exposure treatment shortly after the incident (Ring, Springfield Union-News, 2/13). While responding to a domestic disturbance call last January, Massachusetts police officers shot crime suspect Luis Ortiz, and eight officers came in contact with his blood during the struggle that ensued. A District Court judge initially ruled that Ortiz must reveal his HIV status to police, but Ortiz filed an emergency appeal to postpone the order, pending the high court's decision. Sosman emphasized in her ruling that "state law prohibits the disclosure of anyone's HIV status unless the person allows it," noting that the state Legislature has repeatedly voted down amendments that would allow police or other public safety officials to "supersede the law against disclosure" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/16/01). The bill now goes to the state Senate where it faces an uncertain future. Sen. Stephen Brewer (D) introduced a similar bill in 2000 that provided free HIV testing for police officers at risk of exposure, but that bill was defeated last year. However, the bill was refiled and is now pending in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Brewer said he is not hopeful that either bill will pass. Opponents of both measures say the bills could hamper efforts to stop HIV because the assurance of privacy is one factor that leads many people to get tested. "We still oppose it. We are working very hard to protect people's confidentiality," Magnolia Contreras, public policy director for the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, said (Springfield Union-News, 2/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.