Illinois General Assembly votes to repeal HIV school notification law

Fri. May 24, 2013 8:51 AM by Daniel Cameron

Legislation awaits governor’s signature

Chicago, IL - Late Thursday, the Illinois Senate passed HB 61, which repeals a 1987 law that requires Illinois health departments to report elementary school students' HIV status if tested positive.

Illinois House Bill 61 (HB 61), Principal Notification of Student HIV Status, passed May 23 by a vote of 38 – 13, according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), strong supporters of the bill.

Because the bill passed the Illinois House of Representatives on March 7 it has only to be signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn to become law.

The AFC released a statement urging Gov. Quinn to sign the bill into law.

The bill amends the Communicable Disease Prevention Act, meaning health departments no longer will have the duty of disclosure to school districts, and principals will no longer have the authority to share the names of students who have tested positive for HIV with other school personnel.

"We have been lobbying since 2008 to have this law eradicated from the books," said AFC President/CEO David Ernesto Munar. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding of the disease. The stigma and fear still exists."

Specifically, the bill prohibits revealing the names of children enrolled in public school from kindergarten through fifth grade who have tested positive for the HIV virus, and requires existing records be destroyed by the time the child enters sixth grade.

Instead, if signed into law by Gov. Quinn, the bill would direct principals to simply inform the superintendent of the school district where the affected child lives that "a child" has been diagnosed with HIV, without giving the name, and further for all involved to comply with the requirements of the AIDS Confidentiality Act, or face penalties.

The bill has added over three dozen co-sponsors since its introduction January 3, according to the Illinois government site. Among the many co-sponsors are state Rep. Greg Harris (D-13), the first co-sponsor to sign on, state Sen. Heather A. Steans (D-7), who is chief Senate sponsor of Illinois Senate Bill 10, which would legalize gay marriage in Illinois, and state Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), who served as chief sponsor for HB Bill 61 in the Senate, and state Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-29).

During the recent AFC's Lobby Days 2013, when over a course of three days constitutions from across Illinois visited their representatives and senators to lobby for both House Bill 61 and Senate Bill 10, Rep. Jones spoke with lobbyists during the May 8 in support of both bills, with emphasis on HB 61.

Ramon Gardenhire, AFC Director of Government Relations, expressed his gratitude to both Martinez and state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), who has also worked on the bill.

"We know that HIV infections are on the rise among adolescents," said Gardenhire in a released statement. "This outdated law does nothing to deter the spread of HIV. It only encourages stigma and puts a barrier between young people and potentially life-saving treatment."

AFC Policy Coordinator Lucy Baglin announced to AFC supporters just after the bill passed around 5:00 p.m. that it had passed the Illinois Senate.

"We're completely overjoyed. I think a law like this on the books was only harmful with what we know about the disease and only discouraged students from getting tested," said Baglin. "It's no longer justified, perpetuated stigma and invaded students'and their families' privacy. I think it's about time that Illinois caught up the rest of the states."

According to Munar, Illinois is the only state in the union to still maintain a law like this one on the books.