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Santa Monica Near to Adopting Law Against AIDS Bias

February 11, 1988|TRACY WILKINSON | Times Staff Writer

A far-reaching ordinance that bans discrimination against people with AIDS has moved one step closer to becoming law in Santa Monica.

The City Council on Tuesday night gave preliminary approval to the measure, which makes it illegal to deny housing or employment to people because they have or can transmit acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The ordinance, passed 6-0 with one council member absent, faces a second reading and final vote in two weeks.

In addition to banning discrimination in housing and employment, the law also says that access to goods and services at any business establishment in the city cannot be denied because the potential customer has AIDS.

And admission to educational institutions cannot be denied because the applicant has the disease.

Misdemeanor Penalties

Violation of the law will be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a $500 fine and probation, City Atty. Robert Myers said. Anyone found guilty will also be liable for the payment of damages, attorneys' fees and an additional penalty of $200 to $400.

"Fear and discrimination prevent too many people from coming forward . . . to adequately deal with the disease," Councilman Alan Katz said in support of the measure. "This (law) in no way condones the deliberate passing of the disease (but) allows those with the disease to continue their livelihood."

Myers, in a staff report to the council, said the Santa Monica ordinance goes beyond similar measures enacted in Los Angeles and elsewhere because it expands the definition of who is included in the group facing illegal bias.

It prohibits discrimination because a person "has AIDS, a history of AIDS or is regarded as having or transmitting AIDS."

That language, Myers said, is intended to protect not only people with AIDS but also those with AIDS-related complex, those who have tested positive for exposure to the disease whether or not they have symptoms, and those feared capable of transmitting AIDS whether or not they actually have it.

Working With Schools

The council also voted to develop an educational program on AIDS. A third-annual panel discussion, to be held this year in conjunction with Santa Monica schools, is scheduled March 22.

Under the ordinance, it will be illegal for employers to fire or refuse to hire a person or to discriminate in the offering of wages or privileges to that person because he or she has AIDS.

An exception will be made for those hired to work in an employer's home.

As for housing, the ordinance makes it illegal to refuse to conduct any real estate transaction, including the rental of property, because a person has AIDS. A landlord cannot deny services, repairs or improvements to a tenant because he or she has the disease.

Landlords who would share a kitchen or bathroom with the tenant are exempted.

The housing element of the ordinance drew the lone voice of opposition at the City Council meeting.

John Jurenka, who identified himself as an apartment owner, said that since firefighters and police officers are now equipping themselves with gloves or other protections against AIDS, it is not fair to require landlords to be exposed to people with the disease.

"Fear of AIDS is not unfair discrimination. AIDS is a dreaded disease," Jurenka said. "Don't make the public be forced to be exposed to it."

But he was outnumbered by people speaking in favor of the law.

Judy Abdo, who spoke as a representative of the Santa Monica Bay Area Lesbian and Gay Alliance, praised the ordinance and said people were afraid to speak even at Tuesday's meeting because they feared that they would be subject to discrimination.

Two men who said they had tested positive for the virus expressed fear that they might be evicted from their Santa Monica apartments without the ordinance.

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