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California Assembly Passes Genetic Antidiscrimination Bill

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The California State Assembly yesterday passed a bill that would expand protections from discrimination based on genetic information beyond those afforded by the Genetic Information Act (GINA) of 2008, according to State Sen. Alex Padilla (D – Pacoima), who wrote the bill.

The Padilla bill (SB 559) would amend two anti-discrimination laws already on the California books to prohibit genetic discrimination in the areas of health and life insurance coverage, housing, mortgage lending, employment, education, public accommodations, and elections.

“Discrimination on the basis of genetic information is no less offensive than discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation," Padilla said in a statement. "California has a compelling interest in promoting and fostering the medical promise of genomics while relieving the fear of discrimination by strengthening laws to prevent it.”

GINA is a federal law that prohibits health insurers and employers from making coverage and hiring decisions based on information from genetic tests. The California bill is aimed at including genetic information along with other personal areas in which civil rights are protected in California.

The bill would expand California's Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959 and its Fair Employment and Housing Act — which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability, medical condition, and other personal characteristics by business establishments, employers, and housing owners — to include genetic information.

This proposal defines genetic information as being about an individual's genetic tests, tests of family members, or the manifestation of a disease or disorder among an individual's family members, and it covers information from genetics services and participation in clinical research.

In the bill summary, Padilla said that California has an unfortunate history with genetic discrimination that included the sterilization of thousands of women in the early 20th Century, and a more recent episode involving genetic testing more directly.

"Consider the case of Lawrence-Berkeley Laboratories, which for almost 25 years gave its employees pre-placement and annual medical examinations that included tests for syphilis, sickle cell genetic markers and pregnancy without the employees' knowledge or consent," the non-profit Council for Responsible Genetics wrote in an analysis of the bill supporting the proposal.

The legislation now will now move on to the California State Senate for consideration.

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