Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tarnished his HIV prevention reputation by vetoing life-saving legislation that would help reduced the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and bring California in line with the rest of the country.
“Gov. Schwarzenegger has destroyed his legacy on HIV and hepatitis,” said Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance. “His vetoes will lead to thousands of Californians contracting HIV and hepatitis C. He leaves California worse off than when he came into office.”
California is behind much of the country when it comes to preventing HIV and hepatitis C. California is one of only three states in the country that still prohibits pharmacists from selling syringes to an adult without a prescription. Almost no other state restricts pharmacists in this way. In California thousands of people a year still contract HIV or hepatitis C from sharing injection equipment because they are unable to buy them in a pharmacy or receive them from a syringe exchange program. HIV and hepatitis are both costly, deadly diseases, and the cost of caring for them often falls on public resources.
Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) had introduced legislation (SB 1029) that would have extend a pilot program and allow pharmacies to sell syringes statewide. The legislation passed the Senate and Assembly but was vetoed by the Governor. AB 1858 from Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield (D- San Fernando Valley) would have allowed communities experience high rates of HIV and hepatitis C to open syringe exchange programs for the first time, through the California Department of Public Health. It also passed the legislature only to be vetoed. Last year, the Governor eliminated all state funding for HIV prevention, including syringe access programs and HIV testing.
“Allowing adults to spend their own money to protect their health and the health of others is a no-cost and highly effective way to prevent the spread of deadly diseases,” said Thomas. “We had hoped Gov. Schwarzenegger would leave a legacy of expanding HIV and hepatitis C prevention in California–saving lives and saving money. Instead he will be remembered for ignoring science and allowing people to unnecessarily get HIV and hepatitis C.”
While the Governor ignored the statewide legislation, he did sign a law to continue a pilot program that allows counties to opt into a program that allows pharmacies to sell syringes without a prescription.
“The Governor allowing the pilot programs to continue is just maintaining the status quo,” said Thomas. “This is not the point in the HIV and hepatitis C epidemics to stick with the status quo. We should be doing everything we can to stop new infections of these two deadly diseases, and now we ‘re not able to, thanks to Gov. Schwarzenegger.”