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General Assembly Passes Sweeping AIDS Bills

June 30, 1987 GMT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) _ The Illinois House on Tuesday passed legislation which would require the state Department of Public Health to trace the sex partners of persons infected with the AIDS virus.

The bill, previously passed by the Senate, fits into a comprehensive package of AIDS legislation which would also require testing for marriage license applicants, prison inmates, some hospital patients and convicted sex offenders, and permit state officials to seek quarantine orders against anyone who knowingly spread the disease.

The bill passed Tuesday would not compel people with AIDS to disclose their sexual contacts.

Gov. Jim Thompson has said he would sign the marriage license testing bill, but has not committed himself on other AIDS legislation.

One measure already passed would require health officials to notify school board presidents and school superintendents if a child in their district carries the AIDS virus. School officials would have the option of notifying teachers and school nurses.

Thompson has said the marriage license tests would not cost the state any money, and that people have a right to know whether their prospective spouses are free of the disease.

″Beyond that, I have no commitment to any other AIDS legislation,″ the Republican governor said.

″None of what they are doing is being done for the first time in the country,″ said Kate Farrell, of the National Council of State Legislatures in Denver. ″But all of it is being done at once in kind of a package.

″They’re hitting all of the strongest measures already implemented in other parts of the country.″

The mandatory testing of prison inmates may be unique, said Connie Thomas on the Intergovernmental Health Policy Project at George Washington University, a leading authority on AIDS legislation.

″That would be the first law that I’ve seen that requires across-the-board testing for inmates,″ Ms. Thomas said.

The mandatory testing and contact tracing bills were passed over the opposition of health care professionals and civil libertarians, who said the bills would discourage people from being tested and drive the disease underground.

″If you look at what other state legislatures have done ... you see they have not panicked in the way this Legislature has,″ said Democratic Rep. Ellis Levin of Chicago, who called the mandatory testing and tracing bills ″repressive.″

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Levin successfully sponsored a bill that would require written consent before AIDS tests are given, and place restrictions on disclosure of test results.

More than 60 Illinois doctors and social organizations recently took out a newspaper advertisement calling such bills ″some of the most coercive and counterproductive legislation in the United States.″

But the senator who sponsored the premarital testing bills said the growing AIDS problem forced lawmakers to act.

″We can’t protect the rights of the few to the detriment of the many,″ argued Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville.

Illinois has the highest number of confirmed AIDS cases in the Midwest. As of May, the state had 868 confirmed cases since 1981, many from Chicago. Public Health officials have predicted that Illinois may have 19,000 AIDS cases by 1991.

Illinois had trailed states like New York, California, Florida, Texas and New Jersey in approving AIDS legislation, but now is considered among the leaders, said Paul O’Connor, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

″This is not some reactionary set of bills,″ O’Connor said. ″It covers the whole spectrum.″

The legislation would require AIDS testing of hospital patients between the ages of 13 and 55 who would be receiving blood tests anyway. Testing would also be required for people convicted of sex offenses, and prison inmates when they enter prison and at least 60 days before they are released.

Legislation would also require health care workers who test positive for AIDS to inform their employers. Employers could remove them from contact with patients.