House Passes Bill That Would Alter HIV Testing Requirements for Prison Inmates; Chamber Also Approves Global Poverty Bill
The House on Tuesday passed by voice vote a bill (HR 1943) that would alter HIV testing requirements for federal prison inmates, CQ Today reports (Perine, CQ Today, 9/25). Current federal law and Bureau of Prisons regulations require people sentenced to six months or more in prison to receive an HIV test if it is determined that they are at risk for the virus. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). Under the bill, HIV tests would be required for inmates entering and leaving prison. Inmates would be allowed to opt out of HIV testing unless they were exposed to an HIV risk, such as a pregnancy or a sexual encounter, in prison. In these cases, prisoners would be required to be tested.
In addition, the measure would require the Prisons Bureau to report to Congress the department's procedures for testing, treating and preventing hepatitis and other infections transmitted sexually or through injection drug use. The bureau also would be required to provide legislators with statistics on HIV test results. Inmates scheduled for release would receive counseling, treatment referrals and a month's supply of any "medically necessary medications" they already were taking, according to the bill.
Waters cited a Justice Department report that found that the number of confirmed AIDS cases in prisons is three times higher than the general population. However, she said actual HIV rates in prisons are "unknown because prison officials do not consistently test prisoners" for the virus. The bill would allow prisoners to request HIV testing once annually and mandate confidential counseling for inmates prior to and after testing (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/26). Medical workers also must grant HIV tests to inmates whenever an inmate has a reason to believe they might have been exposed to HIV, according to the measure (HR 1943 text, 9/26).
Rebecca Haag, executive director of AIDS Action Council, said, "Passage of this bill recognizes the need to provide counseling, testing and treatment of HIV-positive federal prisoners and is a first step towards recognizing the public health threat that HIV poses throughout the criminal justice system." Haag added, "The opt-out testing procedures for people who are incarcerated in the federal prison system will help us to ensure that the rights of prisoners are protected while at the same time helping to ensure that they can get tested and receive the counseling and HIV treatment and care that they need" (AIDS Action Council release, 9/25).
Global Poverty Bill
In related news, the House on Tuesday also passed by voice vote a bill (HR 1302) that would make it a stated U.S. policy to reduce poverty worldwide, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 9/25). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), would require the U.S. to develop a strategy to fight global poverty with the aim of reducing by half the number of people between 1990 and 2015 who live on less than $1 daily. Components of the strategy would include sustained investment in U.S. initiatives on HIV/AIDS and malaria, as well as the Millennium Challenge Account and the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.
The bill also would require the president to establish a foreign aid policy that incorporates all agencies administering such aid. The measure would use the U.N. Millennium Development Goals -- which includes reducing the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and eradicating poverty and hunger -- as a guideline to meet its targets. In addition, the measure would require the State Department to provide Congress with annual progress reports. The bill also would include strategies for improving development aid; expanding debt relief; leveraging trade policy and the role of businesses; and coordinating global poverty reduction with other development goals, including fighting the spread of diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/1).
According to CQ Today, there is no companion measure in the Senate (CQ Today, 9/25).