When voters muddle through their long ballots on Tuesday, the first AIDS measure they come to will not be the controversial Proposition 102, which would impose new rules on how doctors can fight the epidemic in California.
First to appear will be Proposition 96, an initiative by Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block that would allow courts to order testing of some criminal suspects for the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus.
Proposition 96 is not exactly lacking in controversy. The chairman of the state AIDS task force and many leading health organizations say the measure will undercut research and recommend the measure’s defeat.
But the opposition lacks the fervor and emotional outpouring seen in the campaign by AIDS experts, academic and religious leaders and gay organizations to defeat the other AIDS initiative, Proposition 102.
Block said Proposition 96 would answer the need for sex crime victims and public service personnel, mainly police officers and paramedics, to know if they have been exposed to the AIDS virus or a communicable disease.
The measure would allow victims of assaults to obtain a court order that requires their alleged attackers to submit to blood testing. The test could be ordered only if there was reason to suspect that bodily fluids were exchanged in the attack, and the results could be released only to victims, suspects and their jailers. Proposition 96 would also require that anyone on the staff of a jail or prison be informed of the HIV-infection status of any inmate they might come in contact with. Block and other supporters say this will protect prison workers from being exposed to threatening diseases.
Most county sheriffs in California support the initiative, which is being financed mainly through contributions Block raised earlier for his next relection campaign. An exception is San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who signed the ballot argument opposed to Proposition 96.
Opponents contend the measure’s intent to give peace of mind to crime victims and public safety officers was superseded by a better law authored by state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) and signed by Gov. George Deukmejian in September, after Proposition 96 was placed on the ballot.
That new law already allows court-ordered testing, but limits it to attacks where the assailant’s blood or semen is suspected of being transferred. Opponents say Proposition 96 would send an erroneous message about AIDS by permitting the test in cases where any bodily fluid is involved.
Opponents say Proposition 96 would also lead to breaches of confidentiality in spite of a provision that makes it a misdemeanor to communicate test results to anyone except the victim, suspect and jail workers.
In prisons, spreading the word of an inmate’s HIV infection to a large number of workers would lead to mistreatment and also cause jailers to take fewer precautions with other inmates who might nonetheless carry the virus, the opponents contend.
State Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), the former Los Angeles police chief who is co-sponsor with Block, is one of several leaders who is taking different positions on the two AIDS measures on Tuesday’s ballot.
Davis and the top local government bodies in Los Angeles--the County Board of Supervisors and the City Council--are supporting Proposition 96 but opposing Proposition 102.
Leading opponents to Proposition 96 include the California Medical Assn., California Nurses Assn., Health Officers Assn. of California, the chairman of the Los Angeles County AIDS Commission and Mayor Tom Bradley.