Assembly Panel Shelves Tougher AIDS Test Bills

Times Staff Writer

Rejecting sweeping changes in the state's AIDS policy, the Assembly Health Committee Tuesday shelved legislation that would have weakened the confidentiality of AIDS test results and taken a first step toward mandatory testing.

Six bills proposed by conservative Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) that would have broadened AIDS testing and softened the existing confidentiality law were either held over until next year or stalled in three separate Assembly and Senate committees.

"Right now, we should not legislate in areas we don't know anything about," said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) after the hearing. "There are so many uncertainties. I think it's better to treat the patient than to force the patient to go underground."

Partial Victory Claimed

Doolittle and his backers, however, attempted to put the day's events in the best light, noting that he had won passage of two bills that would offer voluntary AIDS tests to marriage license applicants and would permit individuals to designate the specific recipient of a blood donation.

"The attitudes of the members are changing," said Stan Devereux, a spokesman for Doolittle. "The Legislature may not be able to go as far as Doolittle would like to go, but it's a start."

Nevertheless, by a vote of 8 to 6, the Health Committee sent Doolittle's most significant bill to "interim study," which means that the bill will be held up so that public hearings can be held on the issue during the fall.

The bill, which has already won the approval of the Senate, would permit health care providers to test patients for exposure to the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome without their consent. It would also treat AIDS like other communicable diseases and weaken a law adopted in 1985 requiring that AIDS test results be kept confidential.

The measure was opposed by public health officials who fear that the loss of confidentiality would scare potential AIDS victims from voluntarily taking the test, thereby helping to spread the disease.

Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy, testifying in opposition to the bill, told the committee: "Its supporters say it will keep all of us safer from this fatal disease. It will actually put us at greater medical risk."

The Democrat-controlled Health Committee also sent to interim study a bill by Doolittle that would have required the testing of certain patients in mental hospitals for exposure to the AIDS virus. The measure, which had passed the Senate, would have enacted the state's first mandatory testing program.

Another bill by Doolittle, which would have required the testing of all new prison inmates, suffered a similar fate in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has been stuck all session. Doolittle did not appear before the panel to take up the bill and it was held over until next year.

Three other Doolittle measures designed to crack down on the transmission of AIDS by prostitutes and blood donors were stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee when Doolittle, who was appearing before the Health Committee, did not arrive to take them up.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner was on hand to testify in support of all three measures, one of which would make it a crime to give blood while knowingly infected with the AIDS virus. The other bills would require convicted prostitutes to undergo AIDS testing and would increase the penalties for anyone convicted of a sex crime who knew that he or she had tested positive for the AIDS virus.

Unless Doolittle receives special permission from the Assembly to hear them before the Legislature adjourns in mid-September, the bills will be held over until next year.

Meanwhile, a bill by Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) that would allow a judge to order a defendant accused of a sex crime to undergo testing for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases was sent to interim study by the Public Safety Committee.

Under the measure, which was sponsored by Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, a judge could issue such an order only when requested by the victim in the case. However, opponents of the bill questioned whether it was appropriate to require defendants who had not been convicted to undergo such a test.

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