Florida governor endorses AIDS quarantine


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Homosexual rights groups vowed to fight Gov. Bob Martinez' proposal to quarantine AIDS sufferers if they risk infecting others, saying it will deflect money from social services needed to stop spread of the disease.

'What he is doing is sending up a trial balloon for the nation,' said Bob Kunst, an AIDS activist in Miami. 'We've got to knock it down real fast.'


Legislation is pending in the House and Senate that would permit confinement of AIDS sufferers who behave in ways likely to spread the disease, but only when 'clear and convincing' evidence shows intensive counseling has not changed their behavior.

The Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services is seeking $1.1 million that would be used to lock up about six juveniles in a state hospital in Orlando and up to 22 adults in a facility in Lantana for AIDS counseling and treatment.

'AIDS carriers who refuse to inhibit their contacts, who refuse to stop spreading this fatal disease, should no more be allowed to roam free than criminals armed with a deadly weapon,' Martinez told a joint session of the Florida Legislature Tuesday.

'The time has come to quarantine those whose character and conduct are a clear threat to society.'


Kunst, calling the proposal 'hysterical,' said the $1.1 million could be better spent in public education and social services.

He said the money would pay for 28 shelter beds for homeless AIDS sufferers, feed 500, provide salaries for 15 social workers, buy 100,000 condoms for distribution to prostitutes and finance a computer to collect information on AIDS from around the world.

Republican Sen. William Myers, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on AIDS, has endorsed the quarantine proposal. A similar House committee has proposed a more modest confinement law, but House leaders oppose the large facilities sought by the Social Services Department.

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel, chairwoman of the House Select Committee, objected to the governor's emphasis on the quarantine proposal.

'That's not how we're going to stop the spread of AIDS,' she said. 'We know that education of high risk groups, education in the schools -- that's how we're going to stop the spread of AIDS.'

Spokesmen for gay rights organizations said Florida had fewer than two or three cases of AIDS sufferers accused of spreading the disease. In one case, an Orlando prostitute made her clients use condoms to prevent their infection.

Martinez also endorsed broader testing and counseling of AIDS patients plus increased education in the schools 'about the difference between right and wrong behavior that causes AIDS.'


Jon Peck, the governor's press secretary, said Martinez meant ways to avoid the infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which causes AIDS.

'Obviously, one of the best ways to combat AIDS is to stop kids and others from engaging in the kinds of activities that spread the disease,' Peck said. 'That includes sex and drug use and homosexuality.'

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