California Sens. Propose Another Bill to Curb the Spread of STDs

SB 932 would allow HIV counselors to administer tests for syphilis, too.

As LGBTQ advocates across the nation battle staggeringly anti-transgender bills, California lawmakers are continuing to push measures that advance equality and health care for LGBTQ people.

The latest is a bill that aims to curbs STI rates in the state by allowing HIV counselors to test for syphilis. Senate Bill 932 was introduced by openly gay Sen. Scott Wiener and Sen. Lena Gonzalez late Wednesday.

In 2014, the FDA approved a rapid, easy-to-use, and inexpensive syphilis test. California has tight regulations on who can perform STI tests. Now, Wiener and Gonzalez want HIV counselors to be able to administer the screening in combination with HIV and hepatitis C tests.

“We think it’s so important to have expansive HIV and hepatitis C testing and rapid testing, that we allow a broader array of people to do it in order to increase access and make it as easy as possible for people to get these rapid tests,” Wiener tells NewNowNext. “I think the same rationale applies to syphilis.”

California is in the middle of a serious uptick in new STD infection. According to data from the California Department of Public Health, rates are the highest they have been in 30 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 18% uptick in syphilis cases between 2017 and 2018, the most recent data available.

Wiener argues that HIV tests present a critical opportunity for counselors to reach patients and increase the number of Californians getting screenings.

SB 932 is the second bill Wiener has introduced in three weeks intended to curb the spread of STIs and HIV in the state. In January, he also introduced a bill requiring state agencies to create a master plan for tackling the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other STDs.

California’s aggressive moves in tackling HIV come as the Trump administration faces fresh backlash for rolling back health care benefits for people with HIV/AIDS.

Los Angeles-based HIV/AIDS organization APLA Health blasted Trump in a statement for attempting to constrict Medicaid benefits as California continues to expand its coverage.

“The President said last night in the State of the Union speech that his administration would end AIDS in this decade,” said APLA Health CEO Craig E. Thompson. “But this latest guidance encourages states to constrict or cap care for exactly those populations most at risk of HIV. This makes no sense.”

Wednesday’s bill has the backing of APLA Health and San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“SB 932 is a commonsense, practical solution to getting more people tested and treated for STIs, This legislation will help California address its STI epidemic by ensuring that people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, youth, women, and other communities experiencing high rates of infections can access HIV, HCV, and STI testing from a singular, properly-trained test counselor in a safe and trusted setting,” said Joe Hollendoner, CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation, in a statement.

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.