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Ban on AIDS Bias Vetoed by Governor

Times Staff Writers

Contending that those who have been exposed to the AIDS virus already have sufficient protections, Gov. George Deukmejian has vetoed legislation barring discrimination against Californians who test positive for the virus.

At the same time, reflecting public fears about the spread of the disease, the governor signed a measure that could force criminal suspects and prison inmates to undergo AIDS testing. Two other bills he approved would provide felony penalties for prostitutes who previously tested positive for the AIDS virus and ease confidentiality laws that can keep health-care workers from sharing information about those who test positive.

These were among the last bills facing Deukmejian as the Friday midnight deadline approached for his action.

Law Enforcement Bills

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Just before leaving the Capitol, Deukmejian also acted on several law enforcement bills, signing legislation outlawing the manufacture, sale or distribution of realistic toy guns but vetoing a bipartisan anti-gang bill that would have established a special police strike force and a full-time team of investigators to concentrate on seizing gang assets.

In a radio address broadcast Saturday, the governor took a parting shot at lawmakers, accusing them of passing too many bills and spending too much of the taxpayers’ money.

“Does California really need 3,700 new laws?” Deukmejian asked. “Only the most passionate advocate of big government would answer yes. In fact, I vetoed hundreds of those bills because I don’t believe it is wise or necessary for government to extend its reach into every aspect of our lives.”

In all, Deukmejian vetoed 600 of the 3,750 bills sent to him by the Legislature during the 1987-88 session. That is a record for the Republican governor, who in 1986 had already surpassed his two predecessors--Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr.--in total number of vetoes.

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About 1,200 of the bills were passed in the last weeks of the session, which ended Sept. 1, and Deukmejian chided lawmakers for that as well.

Deukmejian’s veto of the anti-discrimination bill appears to run counter to the position of several of his Republicans allies, including Vice President George Bush and California Sen. Pete Wilson, both of whom have called for laws to protect individuals who have been exposed to the virus. Similar recommendations are contained in a report by the Presidential Commission on AIDS.

Protection Cited

In vetoing the measure, Deukmejian took great pains to explain that AIDS patients are already protected by the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which bars housing and employment discrimination against people with physical handicaps.

Deukmejian said it would be wrong to single out one specific disease for special treatment. “Other specific disabilities may be equally deserving,” the governor said. Deukmejian had twice vetoed bills that would have prohibited discrimination against AIDS patients.

The protections the governor cited resulted from a decision by the Fair Employment and Housing Commission that applies generally to those with AIDS.

By contrast, the legislation by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) was meant to cover an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 Californians believed to carry the human immunodeficiency virus but who have not developed the disease.

Michael Twombley, a senior consultant to Vasconcellos, said the veto puts Deukmejian “outside the mainstream of Republican politics on the subject of AIDS.” Twombley, citing the presidential commission’s report, warned that “no one would be willing to come forward for voluntary AIDS testing or contact tracing if they felt their jobs or housing would be jeopardized” by a HIV-positive test.

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“It’s outrageous, but unfortunately it’s predictable,” said Benjamin H. Schatz, director of the San Francisco-based National Gay Rights Advocates’ AIDS Civil Rights Project. “The governor has clearly chosen ideology over the public health.”

Philosophical Shift

Deukmejian’s signature on several other AIDS-related bills mirrors, in part, a philosophical shift within the Legislature toward protecting society even when that conflicts with what AIDS patients regard as their basic rights.

One measure, by Sen. Robert B. Presley (D-Riverside), is intended to allow law enforcement officers and jailers to determine whether they have been exposed to the virus as the result of physical confrontations with suspects or inmates. The bill, which takes effect immediately, is similar to Proposition 96 on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative, however, applies to police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, as well as victims of sex crimes.

A controversial provision of the bill allows officers to force AIDS tests of suspects even before conviction if medical authorities rule that there was a chance an officer might have been exposed to the virus. Prison inmates are also allowed to request testing of fellow inmates.

A second bill, by Sen. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin), makes it a felony for prostitutes to continue working after knowing they have been exposed to the virus. It would also have financed education programs for victims and perpetrators of sex offenses. But Deukmejian cut $1.5 million from a $2-million appropriation meant to underwrite the program, saying he believed $500,000 is sufficient.

The third AIDS bill, by Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), loosens the state’s confidentiality laws, allowing physicians to tell other doctors, nurses and health workers whether a patient has AIDS or has tested positive for the virus. The California Medical Assn. had complained that without the information, health care workers do not know when to take steps to protect themselves.

Bill on Toy Guns

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In the area of law enforcement, the bill signed by Deukmejian to outlaw the manufacture, sale or distribution of realistic-looking toy guns was prompted by an incident involving a Los Angeles television personality. Consumer reporter David Horowitz was held hostage last year during a broadcast by a man brandishing a replica of a real pistol.

The measure, which carries a $10,000 fine, was heavily opposed by the National Rifle Assn. Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), the bill’s author, noted during debate over the proposal that police in recent years had mistakenly shot several youngsters who were displaying replica firearms.

The anti-gang bill vetoed by Deukmejian was the cornerstone of a bipartisan package of legislation sparked by growing violence, including drive-by shootings, in gang-infested Los Angeles neighborhoods.

The measure by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro) would have spent $9.4 million to create an anti-gang strike force within the Department of Justice, establish a special task force to concentrate on seizing money and property from gang members and provide grants to local law enforcement agencies.

While the bill had strong support in the Legislature, it prompted an outcry from local prosecutors who feared encroachment by the attorney general’s office. Deukmejian agreed, saying he was concerned it might lead to federal, state and local agencies investigating “the same drug gang at the same time without being aware of the other’s actions.”

Last week, the governor signed a 12-bill package to fight gang violence and drug dealing. But critics contend that those measures will provide only token financing for new new anti-gang efforts.

In other actions, the governor vetoed bills that would:

- Restore funding to Los Angeles’ financially strapped trauma care system. Deukmejian has repeatedly vetoed measures similar to this bill by Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles). As before, the governor maintained that trauma care systems “are the responsibility of individual counties.”

- Screen and treat children in McFarland, where there has been a high incidence of cancer. The bill would have provided $466,000 for clinic services, medical assistance and cancer screening. Deukmejian stated he was “truly sympathetic” to the victims but said he vetoed the bill because existing programs were adequate. One author of the legislation, Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), accused the governor of “turning his back on the health and safety” of people in McFarland and other San Joaquin Valley towns.

- Tighten regulations governing clinical laboratories that examine Pap smear tests that are used to detect cervical cancer. Deukmejian said the bill by Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) represents “a major intervention” of government into the private sector and a “step towards state supervision of a medical specialty.”


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