WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a law that lowers the charge on HIV patients, who knowingly infect their partners, from a felony to a misdemeanor.
- This law also applies to infected patients who donate blood without notifying the center about their HIV status.
- The bill, SB 239, was approved by the state congress in September and will be in effect in 2018.
People exposed to HIV virus in the U.S. reached 1.1 million according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015 statistics. Another fact by the CDC is that 1 out of 7 infected individuals doesn’t know it.
California lawmakers passed a bill to reduce the penalty for HIV patients who intentionally expose others to the disease without their knowledge. This new bill reversed a law that mostly affected sex workers.
Democratic Senator Scott Wiener said, “California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals.”
The current law can put those convicted to prison to up to seven years.
The reform push in the state was supported by the LGBT community, HIV groups and civil liberties. These groups argued that the laws are not just outdated, but also ineffective. Statistics revealed that most convictions were related to sex workers.
In regards to blood donation, the current law was probably never implemented and probably did not intensify the screening measures.
Co-sponsoring the bill, Senator Wiener said, “If you are a sex worker and you solicit someone and you’re HIV positive, you’re guilty of a felony before any contact occurs. These laws are so draconian that you can be convicted of a felony and sent to state prison even if you engage in behavior that creates zero risk of HIV infection.”
Many California lawmakers from the Republican party, including Senator Joel Anderson, did not agree.
“I’m of the mind that if you purposefully inflict another with a disease that alters their lifestyle the rest of their life, puts them on a regimen of medications to maintain any kind of normalcy, it should be a felony,” said the senator. “It’s absolutely crazy to me that we should go light on this.”
The new law supporters emphasized that the intentional spread of any contagious disease in California is a misdemeanor crime. These diseases include SARS, Ebola and tuberculosis, which are potentially deadly.
“There’s no reason that HIV should be treated differently,” said Equality California executive director Rick Zbur. “A lot of what was behind this was basically looking at the laws to see how we could improve public health and modernizing these laws, so HIV is treated the same.”
Equality California is an LGBT civil rights nonprofit organization which co-sponsored the bill.