HOUSE BILL 2183: A seemingly ordinary bill with a potentially destructive impact. Both the House and the Senate have passed a bill in Kansas that would allow the quarantine of people with “infectious and contagious diseases” to be redefined to include people with HIV/AIDS. Initially, HB 2183 was drafted with the advantageous purpose of facilitating local health officers (i.e., firefighters, paramedics, nurses, law enforcement, etc.) with an infectious disease victim’s blood testing without a court order if the officer had become exposed to it. Nonetheless, due to the striking out and rewriting of Kansas Statute 65-128 that specifies the rules and regulations of the Secretary of Health in regards to isolation and quarantine, a broad and dangerous deregulation is put into effect concerning when a quarantine can be put into effect.
From K.S.A 65-128 To HB 2183
Statute 65-128 and House Bill 2183 follow similar language in that the Secretary of Health is authorized to adopt certain rules and regulations including isolation and quarantine in order to prevent the spread of contagious diseases to the public. However, HB 2183 veers off this wording when the strikeout of the following occurs:
“…but the infectious or contagious disease acquired immune deficiency syndrome [AIDS] or any causative agent thereof shall not constitute an infectious or contagious disease”.
This amendment works to exclude AIDS from the list of “infectious and contagious diseases” through casual contact that mandates isolation. Instead, the new bill states:
“The secretary of health and environment is authorized to issue such orders and adopt rules and regulations as may be necessary to prevent the spread and dissemination of diseases injurious to the public health, including, but not limited to, providing for the testing for such diseases and the isolation and quarantine of persons afflicted with or exposed to such diseases” (HB 2183 pp. 2).
Without the vital section excluding AIDS victims and with sodomy laws still in the books, LGBT advocates worry about the potential legalized segregation and isolation of HIV/AIDS victims in Kansas. According to the Department of Health, as of December 2012, there are 2,423 residents living in Kansas with HIV/AIDS. This bill would strike down the 1988 Kansas ban on the quarantine of people with HIV/AIDS (regarding the case of Eliana Martinez), putting over two thousand residents at risk of authorized discrimination and harassment. Things do not look well for victims in the conservative state that just earlier in January limited free HIV testing from 40 counties down to 10.
LGBT Advocates Speak Out
Thomas Witt, the Executive Director of the Kansas Equality Coalition (Twitter, Facebook), comments that while people with HIV are unlikely to be quarantined, state health officials are ignoring the possibility that the new law could threaten residents in more rural areas. Witt said to ThinkProgress, “Our state’s health department is willing to roll back a 25-year old civil rights protection. LGBT Kansans are already subject to harassment and legal discrimination, and removing the existing HIV quarantine exemption from law leaves vulnerable Kansans at risk of discriminatory, unfair treatment by local officials.” Witt fears that HB 2183 will give the opportunity to other local officials to abuse their power where specific protection is not in place for those with HIV or of homosexual orientation.
Cody Patton, the executive director of the sexual health charity Positive Directions, shares the same concern for treatment of HIV/AIDS victims in rural Kansas districts as Witt does. Patton commented to ThinkProgress: “We live in a very conservative state and I’m afraid there are still many people, especially in rural Kansas, that have inadequate education and understanding concerning HIV/AIDS. My fear would not be the state uses the law as some way to move all people living with HIV/AIDS into an isolated community, but that this law could allow some county employee to use this law to justify their religious beliefs over their professional responsibilities and discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS.” Nevertheless, Patton maintains that his level of concern about the bill remains at a 30% due to the wording of HB 2183 that calls for quarantine only when medically necessary.
The president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (Facebook, Twitter), Michael Weinstein, disagrees. Weinstein reveals that the bill leading to a quarantine of HIV/AIDS patients is “not so far-fetched,” said to The Daily Beast. He sees House Bill 2183 as a reversion back to the darker days of the AIDS epidemic where misinformation and widespread fear created unconstitutional prejudice. Notably, in Lyndon LaRouche’s unsuccessful 71% to 29% margin initiative, California Proposition 64 campaign “Spread PANIC, not AIDS”. According to Weinstein, the bill reflects either “how little [Kansas legislators] understand about HIV and how it is transmitted – it is not spread through casual contact such as TB or other airborne communicable diseases – or it shows that they want the ability to quarantine people, and/or discriminate against them in other ways as they see fit…either choice shows a real lack of understanding about public health and safety—one of the most basic services that is government’s role to ensure.” Weinstein considers the bill in a non-liberal state a trend-setter towards criminalization of HIV and any LGBT/AIDS advocates unalarmed by HB 2183 as suffering from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome. He fears at the stem of it all, AIDS victims could be kept from receiving proper treatment due to reluctance of disclosing their status in an environment that not exactly understands their plight.
Currently, the House and Senate are working to pass this Kansas quarantine bill that will be up for vote in the next few weeks. During the amendment stages of the bill, State Senator Marci Francisco explained that HIV/AIDS is not spread through everyday casual contact in an attempt to restore the struck-out section of Statue 65-128 that excluded HIV/AIDS victims from quarantine and warn her colleagues about the bill being translated as discriminatory. However, the final version of HB-2183 passed without any amendments per her suggestions.
On March 29, 2013, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released the following press statement:
“Contrary to recent media coverage, no version of Kansas Substitute House Bill 2183 would have ever allowed for isolation of persons infected with or quarantine of persons exposed to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
This bill is about occupational safety and health…The substitute bill – which has been the source of the public controversy – was introduced as a simpler and more streamlined approach to accomplish the objectives of the original bill. It will provide KDHE the authority to address many of the details in the original bill in administrative regulations instead.
The law requires isolation and quarantine be based on what is reasonable and medically necessary, and neither of those thresholds are met with respect to HIV.”
Even so, the HIV/AIDS exemption is still missing from House Bill 2183 with no further amendments to be made concerning this issue.