California Introduces Bill to End AIDS Epidemic

“We know exactly what needs to happen to end new HIV and STI infections. We just need the political will to make it happen.”

Above: California state Sen. Scott Wiener.

California, long a model for progressive LGBTQ policy, could be the next state in the U.S. to pass legislation aimed at eradicating HIV.

On Thursday, openly gay state Sen. Scott Wiener will introduce a bill requiring state agencies to create a master plan for tackling the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and STDs. The bill would require the secretary of California's Health and Human Services agency and chief of the state's Office of AIDS to create an advisory committee to set targets for ending HIV. Both agencies would also have to submit progress reports to the governor and lawmakers annually through 2030.

California has continued to grapple with HIV/AIDS-related illness, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health. Between 2013 and 2017, the death rate of people diagnosed with HIV increased by 4.4%.

Communities of color in particular have been hit the hardest; while new infections during that four-year period dipped 13% among white Californians, and African-Americans saw a decrease of just 2%.

STD rates in the state are also on the rise. Over 400,000 Californians have hepatitis C, according to data from Wiener’s office. HIV and hepatitis C are considered interrelated because both can be transmitted through blood.

“California has long been at the forefront of the fight against HIV and STIs, but we’re at risk of falling behind,” said Wiener in a statement to NewNowNext. “We need aggressive action to remain a leader in this critical public health effort. This bill—requiring our state to formulate and invest in a plan to end the epidemic—is exactly the aggressive action we need.”

Three years ago, Wiener co-sponsored controversial legislation to decriminalize HIV transmission, a move hailed by HIV/AIDS advocates as critical to combating stigma and lowering transmission rates.

Wiener’s office points to New York as an inspiration Thursday's bill. In 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a three-point plan for ending HIV in the state. Since it went into effect, the $20 million annual plan has resulted in a 40% drop in new infections.

Wiener hopes his bill goes a step further by tackling HIV, STDs, and hepatitis C as interrelated issues.

“We know exactly what needs to happen to end new HIV and STI infections," he added. "We just need the political will to make it happen.”

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