State legislators in Kansas are considering a bill that would allow the quarantine of people with AIDS or HIV.
Kansas House Bill 2183 was originally created to serve first responders who might be at risk of contracting HIV through their work. But the Kansas Department of Health and Environment rewrote the language in the bill, broadly deregulating when isolation can take place and opening up the possibility that HIV positive people could be quarantined.
Activists fear this oversight could be used to openly discriminate.
“Our state’s health department is willing to roll back a 25-year old civil rights protection,” Thomas Witt, the Executive Director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, told ThinkProgress. “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.”
Other activists have also expressed concern that Kansans might not understand how HIV can be spread, and have implicit biases thanks to a lack of knowledge. “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,” Cody Patton, of sexual health group Positive Directions told Gay Star News. This theory was also evidenced by a debate earlier this year, when the Kansas health department eliminated HIV testing for most counties in the state.
The Kansas senate has approved the HIV quarantine bill, and it looks likely to pass. During a hearing about the measure on Wednesday, however, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said it would be willing to work with groups to fix what they considered problematic aspects of current proposal.
The Kansas health department has issued a clarifying statement on the bill:
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).
“There has been a great deal of concern in recent days about Kansas Substitute House Bill 2183, which is supported by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and is under current consideration by the Kansas Legislature. Much of the recent media coverage has been based on the false premise that, if enacted, the bill would allow for isolation of persons infected with or quarantine of persons exposed to HIV,” stated Charles Hunt, State Epidemiologist. “It is not and never was the state’s intent to seek the authority for isolation or quarantine of persons related to HIV.”
KDHE has consistently stated that isolation and quarantine actions would not be allowable for HIV based on the enactment of this bill.