The California Legislature responded to the AIDS pandemic with a variety of bills in the final days of the session, but unfortunately failed to approve the single most important piece of legislation, AB 87, which would have created a state commission and implemented other recommendations of the U.S. surgeon general.
Of the bills approved in the final flurry of activity, one stands out as of special urgency, with strong reasons why Gov. George Deukmejian will sign it. This is SB 136--by Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), chairman of the Senate Education Committee--which would set in motion an urgently needed program of secondary-school education on the perils of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Under this legislation, the superintendent of public instruction and the director of state health services would select video cassettes to be used in an AIDS educational program for students in grades 7 through 12. Parents and guardians would receive written notification in advance of the instruction, and would be permitted to have their children excused from it. But the intent is clearly to reach as many students as possible with the message.
The program has been made more acceptable for those who are uneasy about any discussion of sexually related subjects by providing that the instruction emphasize that sexual abstinence is the only completely effective method of escaping infection and that so-called "safe sex" methods, like the use of condoms, have limitations in preventing the spread of the disease.
Hart's AIDS education bill, unlike AB 87, has attracted bipartisan support and has been endorsed by numerous groups--among them the California Medical Assn. and the Roman Catholic bishops of the state.
AB 87 will be reconsidered in January, and there is good reason to think that it will win approval at that time. The unanimous opposition of the Republicans is likely to yield as the position of the California Medical Assn. becomes better understood. The CMA dropped its opposition to the bill after significant amendments were accepted by the author, Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco), but the CMA, for reasons that we do not grasp, continues to withhold its active support. As now written, the bill is strictly limited, with the principal emphasis on the creation of a state AIDS commission. The need for such a commission has been demonstrated over and over again in recent months as state and local officials have sought coordination of their efforts.
Delay in creating the state commission, and delay in launching the education program in secondary schools, only serves to raise the risks.