California updated its HIV laws on Friday, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that downgrades the crime of intentionally infecting a sexual partner with the virus from a felony to a misdemeanor.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill was authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), as today’s advances in the field of medicine now allow people with HIV to live longer, with a greatly reduced risk of transmitting the virus to someone else. Furthermore, the lawmakers emphasized that the change in California’s HIV laws would allow for the state to treat the virus like other serious infectious diseases.
“Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” read a statement from Wiener.
California’s existing laws most importantly require a proof of intent to transmit for someone to get a felony charge for spreading HIV. This makes the virus the only one of its kind to be associated with felony charges under California law. But as Wiener observed, these laws also have a loophole in which people could choose not to be tested for HIV, as it would be impossible to charge them with a felony if they knowingly spread the virus to a partner.
Supporters of the new bill also argued that the existing laws unfairly target women involved in prostitution, even if they did not actually infect their sexual partners with HIV. But with California’s HIV laws changing through the bill, its authors believe that it will provide HIV sufferers with the right tools to help them deal with their condition, instead of sending a lot of them to jail.
“We are going to end new HIV infections, and we will do so not by threatening people with state prison time, but rather by getting people to test and providing them access to care,” said Wiener.
In a statement published by the American Civil Liberties Union’s San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter, ACLU of Southern California Gender and Reproductive Justice project director Melissa Goodman praised the changes, describing the existing laws as “draconian” and disproportionately harmful to people of color and transgender women.
“With the enactment of this law, our laws will now become more fair, less discriminatory, and will promote treatment and prevention rather than criminalization.”
The Los Angeles Times noted, however, that the bill is not without its detractors, including Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine). He believes that purposefully infecting another person with a disease that could change their lifestyle and quality of life should be a felony, and that it is “absolutely crazy” that California’s HIV laws should “go light” instead of cracking down. Anderson said that tougher penalties should be imposed on people who knowingly spread infectious diseases to other individuals.
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