California Gov. Davis Signs Two HIV/AIDS-Related Bills, Vetoes Two Needle Access Bills
California Gov. Gray Davis (D) on Saturday signed two HIV/AIDS-related bills and vetoed two bills aimed at preventing the spread of HIV, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The moves came despite Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) request that Davis not act on any of the nearly 300 bills awaiting action after Davis was recalled last week. However, because of provisions in the state Constitution, five of the bills Davis vetoed would have automatically become law if he had not acted (Thompson, AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/11). The following are summaries of the AIDS-related bills.
AB 879: Introduced by California Assembly member Paul Koretz (D), the new law requires the state Department of Health Services to form a task force that will be charged with creating treatment guidelines for cases of inadvertent sexual or needle exposure to HIV. The state currently only has post-exposure treatment guidelines for health care workers and sexual assault survivors who are exposed to the virus (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/11). Researchers have found that people who may have been exposed to HIV can avoid infection if they take a regimen of antiretroviral drugs within 72 hours of exposure and continue a course of treatment for several weeks (AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/11).
AB 1676: The bill, introduced by Assembly member John Dutra (D), requires physicians to ask pregnant women to undergo HIV testing along with a routine battery of tests and to provide counseling for women who find out that they are HIV-positive. The law allows women to choose not to be tested. In addition, the law requires the state Department of Health Services in conjunction with the Office of AIDS and other organizations to develop by the end of next year culturally sensitive informational material on HIV testing. Last year, Davis vetoed a similar bill, saying that women might perceive the test as mandatory and refuse to obtain prenatal care as a result (Hymon, Los Angeles Times, 10/11).
- AB 946: Davis vetoed the bill, which would have increased cities' and counties' freedom to establish clean needle and syringe-exchange programs to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. In his veto message, Davis said he is committed to helping prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis but added that he was concerned that the bill would "create more law enforcement problems" than the existing law (AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/11). Currently, state law protects from prosecution any public entity for distributing hypodermic needles or syringes to participants in needle-exchange programs (AB 946 text, 2/20).
SB 774: Davis vetoed the bill, which would have allowed pharmacies to sell up to 30 hypodermic syringes to an adult without a prescription, according to the Associated Press (Coleman, Associated Press, 10/14). The measure, sponsored by Sen. John Vasconcellos (D), aimed to reduce the incidence of needle sharing among drug users, which contributes to the spread of HIV, hepatitis C and other bloodborne diseases. California law currently requires a prescription to purchase syringes, except when used to inject adrenaline or insulin (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5). In his veto message, Davis said that the bill would "undermine" one-for-one needle-exchange programs already in place, according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 10/14). Davis added that the measure would "weake[n] county oversight and accountability" and require the state to reimburse local health officials, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Vasconcellos was "fuming" on Monday about Davis' veto of the pharmacy needle bill, according to the Mercury News. He called the veto "a real tragedy," adding, "People will die and the people who die can thank Gray Davis" (Marimow, San Jose Mercury News, 10/14). The San Francisco AIDS Foundation expressed "deep disappointment" over the veto, according to a SFAF release. "We thank Governor Davis for [a] strong overall record on HIV/AIDS issues," Dana Van Gorder, SFAF director of state and local affairs, said, adding, "However, he has been overly responsive to unfounded opposition to expanded syringe access despite the fact that similar laws in other states have resulted in neither increased drug use or crime" (SFAF release, 10/13). AIDS Project Los Angeles "commended" Davis for signing the bill that requires physicians in the state to offer HIV testing to all pregnant women, according to an APLA release. "With this bill, it's possible that California could almost completely prevent mother-to-child [HIV] transmission," APLA Executive Director Craig Thompson said, adding, "And because testing will be offered to all pregnant mothers, women will not feel they are being stigmatized or admitting to risky behaviors if they take the prenatal HIV test" (APLA release, 10/13). However, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation said that the bill does not go far enough because HIV testing is still voluntary under the law, whereas tests for other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and hepatitis, are required but allow women to opt-out of testing. "If we think that saving babies from getting infected with HIV is the most important thing, we should have had a bill that made it the same as testing the woman for syphilis. And this bill is not that," AHF President Michael Weinstein said (Los Angeles Times, 10/11).