California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday that lowers the punishment for people who knowingly donate HIV-infected blood.
The law also applies to LGBT persons who knowingly expose a sexual partner to HIV without telling them.
SB 239 changes both from a felony to a misdemeanor, meaning the penalty has been reduced from up to eight years in prison to a maximum sentence of six months.
Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, coauthors the legislation, argued that modern medicine has changed the lifespan of HIV-infected persons and nearly eliminates the chance of transmission.
“Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” Wiener said in a statement. “HIV should be treated like all other serious infectious diseases, and that’s what SB 239 does.”
Supporters of the change said the current law requires an intent to transmit HIV to justify a felony, but others noted cases have been prosecuted where there was no physical contact, so there was an argument intent was lacking.
Brown declined to comment on his action.
HIV has been the only communicable disease for which exposure is a felony under California law. The current law, Wiener argued, may convince people not to be tested for HIV, because without a test they cannot be charged with a felony if they expose a partner to the infection.
“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,” Wiener said.
Supporters of the bill said women engaging in prostitution are disproportionately targeted with criminal charges, even in cases where the infection is not transmitted. (LA Times)
Republicans pushed back on the law, pointing out that it has the potential to increase the number of HIV infections since 75 percent of people on prescriptions in the U.S. don’t take their medicine according to their doctor’s orders.
"If you don't take your AIDS medications and you allow for some virus to duplicate and show a presence, then you are able to transmit that disease to an unknowing partner," state Sen. Jeff Stone, who opposed the bill, said on the Senate floor.
Republican state Sen. Joel Anderson, who also voted against the bill, called the legislation irresponsible.
“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,” Anderson said during the floor debate. “It’s absolutely crazy to me that we should go light on this.”