A recently signed bill by California governor, Jerry Brown has deduced HIV from a felony to a misdemeanor for those who knowingly expose a person to HIV in a sexual encounter without fully disclosing their infection, and applies to those who are HIV positive that give blood without making the blood bank aware of their status.
California State Senator Scott Wiener argued that the old law gave no incentive for people in the state to be tested because people that unwillingly spread the virus couldn’t be charged. The purpose of the bill is for California to be the first state to treat this as a public-health issue, getting more people tested and treated, instead of letting it remain as a criminal issue. California, a state with approximately 130,000 HIV infected diagnosed residents received support for the bill from the LGBTQ community as well as the Sex Workers Outreach Project to name a few. From 1988 to 2014, the state of California gave 357 convictions for HIV felonies, where a large majority of convictions were from prostitution solicitation incidents. A sex worker could be charged with a felony if he/she was HIV positive, without telling their partner, even if a sexual encounter hadn’t taken place.
The SB 239 bill is a reflection of our current advanced health care system, where discriminatory practices are no longer needed as it was in the 1980s, being that the virus is no longer a death sentence. With HIV medication available, people infected with the virus are able to live sustainable lives, argued supporters of the bill. Currently, those convicted face up to seven years in prison and Republican lawmakers would like to keep it as such. Republican senator, Joel Anderson stated, “..I think any disease that you inflict on somebody against their will that permanently changes them should be a felony.” Democratic senator, Scott Wiener, who proposed the bill stated, “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.”
What do you think? Should exposing someone to HIV remain a criminal offense or is it too harsh to punish someone who is already facing a life-threatening illness? Feel free to share your thoughts.