Davis signs, vetoes HIV bills

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com October 15 2003 12:00 AM ET

Outgoing California governor Gray Davis signed a bill last weekend that requires HIV antibody tests to be offered to all pregnant women in the state and vetoed a measure that would have made it easier for cities and counties in the state to develop needle-exchange programs. Davis signed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman John Dutra (D-Fremont) that requires doctors to ask all pregnant women to take an HIV antibody test as part of a standard prenatal blood screening, which also checks for hepatitis B and determines the woman's blood type. Women will be able to opt out of the test if they do not want to take it. Davis vetoed a similar bill last year out of concerns that women who perceive the test as mandatory would skip all health care while pregnant. The current bill allows for a counseling session in which a health-care worker would explain why the test is important, a provision Davis supported. Identifying HIV-positive pregnant women is important because a short course of anti-HIV drugs can dramatically reduce the chances of the woman passing the virus along to her infant while pregnant or during delivery.

Davis vetoed two bills aimed at reducing HIV infections among injection-drug users. He rejected a bill that sought to revise a current requirement allowing local governments to operate a needle-exchange program to reduce the sharing of needles and transmissions of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses only if the community declares a health emergency and renews the emergency declaration every two weeks. Davis in 1999 signed a bill that did not outright legalize needle exchanges but permitted them to operate during health emergencies. The bill would have changed that law to allow any community to launch a needle-exchange program without the health emergency stipulation. He also vetoed a bill that would have allowed pharmacies to sell up to 30 hypodermic needles to an adult without a prescription. Davis said the measure would have undermined one-for-one needle-exchange programs already in operation in about a dozen sites throughout the state.