Bill to repeal laws that criminalize HIV exposure introduced in U.S. House

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

WASHINGTON — A California congresswoman on Tuesday reintroduced the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act in the U.S. House, a bill that would would lead to an eventual repeal of laws that criminalize exposing others to HIV.

Currently, 32 states and two U.S. territories that have laws that make “exposure” to or nondisclosure of HIV a crime.

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who first introduced the measure in 2011, said those laws “are based on bias, not science.”

“We need to make sure that our federal and state laws don’t discriminate against people who are living with HIV. These laws breed fear, discrimination, distrust, and hatred, and we’ve got to modernize them. That’s exactly what this legislation would do,” said Lee.

The REPEAL act (“Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal” HIV Discrimination) calls for review of all federal and state laws, policies, and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses.

If enacted, it would be the first piece of federal legislation to take on the issue of HIV criminalization, encouraging states to reconsider laws and practices that unfairly target people with HIV for consensual sex and conduct that poses no real risk of HIV transmission.

“The more messages we can send to states to modernize or eliminate HIV criminalization laws the better—and that is exactly what this bill does,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal.

“It is high time the nation’s HIV criminalization laws reflect the current reality of living with HIV, both from medical and social perspectives. Except for perhaps the most extreme cases, the criminal law is far too blunt an instrument to address the subtle dynamics of HIV disclosure,” said Schoettes.

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The bill has the support of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), the Positive Justice Project, and AIDS United.

Though condom use significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission, most HIV-specific laws do not consider condom use a mitigating factor or as evidence that the person did not intend to transmit HIV.

Sentences imposed on people convicted of HIV-specific offenses can range from 10-30 years, even in the absence of intent to transmit HIV, actual transmission, or even the potential for transmission. Though most convictions are based on consensual sexual activity between adults, those convicted are often required to register as “sex offenders.”

Lambda Legal noted that it is arguing a case pending before the Iowa Supreme Court in which they are seeking to overturn the 25-year sentence of an HIV+ man who used a condom during a single sexual encounter in which there was no HIV transmission.

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