HIV bill awaits Doyle’s signature

A bill sitting on Gov. Jim Doyle's desk, awaiting signature or veto, would extend the right to request HIV testing for people whose blood or bodily fluid have come into contact with educators and social workers.

Under current state law, police officers, fire fighters, medical workers and people in related fields are the only ones who can make such requests.

The current bill passed the legislature last week, and Doyle is still reviewing the bill, according to spokesperson Jessica Erickson.

The bill would apply to social workers and those working in education — including in private schools.

"(Marquette has) not lobbied in support or opposition to the bill," said Ben Tracy, director of university communication. "This is not a huge issue here at Marquette." The bill, he said, seemed aimed at elementary and high school workers where students took gym classes and had higher risks of bleeding while at school.

"(If passed), this is not something that would affect the university on a day-to-day, or even a month-to-month, basis," Tracy said.

Milwaukee Public Schools haven't thrown their weight behind or against the bill either, according to MPS spokesman Dan Donder.

"At this point MPS basically supports this bill in concept," Donder said. However, "(we) need to make sure that the privacy and the rights of our students and staff are protected."

The bill has received support in both the Assembly and the Senate; it was unopposed in the Assembly and only three representatives voted against it in the Senate.

For Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), privacy was the main reason he voted against the bill, according to spokeswoman Julie Laundrie.

"Is this really a problem?" she asked. "What are we trying to solve here? Is it a good idea to take away a person's rights if this isn't a problem?"

However, one of the bill's co-sponsors, Rep. J.A. Hines (R-Oxford), said it does not make sense to neglect the rights of educators and social workers. He said emergency workers are already protected from exposure to HIV under current law.

"All we're saying is we're adding people in school districts and social workers," to the list of people allowed to ask for mandatory HIV tests, he said. "Here's something we're trying to do to protect them."

Hines said the educators and social workers would still have to follow the same procedures for having a test administered as emergency workers, which includes having a physician certify in writing that the person making the request was exposed to the blood or bodily fluid for a significant amount of time.

In the event of a mandatory test, the results are shared with the person tested and the emergency worker who requested the test. If the bill on Doyle's desk passes, students could be tested, and their results shared with educators.

Disclosure, Laundrie said, was something Erpenbach was against. But Hines said the educators and social workers have the right to know if they have been exposed to HIV.

Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) said he opposed the bill because it created a "false sense of security." First, he said, there is a small window of time between contracting HIV and testing positive, so if an educator requests a mandatory test and it comes up negative, both the student and educator may still have HIV.

Also, he said, it creates a situation where people let their own health depend on others.

"(This is) relying on someone else's status to mind your own," he said. "The best way of testing is basically (testing) yourself."

Taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach, Rep. Suzanne Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls), who also co-sponsored the bill, said everyone knows there is a difference in time between contracting HIV and testing positive for it. Educators and social workers still have a right to know if they've been exposed, she said.