Welcome to session at the Georgia State Capitol, where legislators and lobbyists feverishly jump from one committee meeting to another and where, on February 8, citizens packed the halls to advocate for issues affecting people living with HIV. This is AIDSWatch Georgia.
AIDSWatch Georgia is an advocacy-focused event put on by Georgia Equality each year. It puts people living with HIV in conversation with their legislators and offers free advocacy training. This year, two bills in particular have been introduced and will greatly affect those who are living with and affected by HIV/AIDS: HB 737 and HB 755.
HB 737 would allow police officers and other law enforcement to force by court order blood test for HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C if there has been a possible exposure to blood or bodily fluids during a lawful arrest. This bill directly affects any person who is arrested in the state of Georgia, regardless of HIV status. However, for people living with HIV, it would disclose this personal information to any of the involved law enforcement officers who may have come in contact with the arrestees bodily fluids.
HB 755 would create a pilot Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) program in counties specified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as having a high likelihood of an HIV outbreak due to high opioid use. PrEP is a medication that lowers the risk for HIV infection when taken by people at very high risk for HIV contraction.
It’s crucial that real data and experiences be directly connected to vote results of HB 737 and HB 755. Accordingly, our advocates waited patiently in the packed halls to speak one-on-one with their legislators and delivered them the most current realities of HIV/AIDS in Georgia.
“For these individuals tasked with making decisions that will affect the lives of Georgians, it is paramount to have all the facts. “
As I exited the Capitol that day, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Although we could not speak to every legislator, we were able to pass information that many legislators were unaware of. For these individuals tasked with making decisions that will affect the lives of Georgians, it is paramount to have all the facts. As we do every year, we will leave the laws in the hands of the legislators, and hope that their decisions are based in knowledge and justice.