Deliberately transmitting Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) to other people without their knowledge was considered a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony in California which started on January 1, 2018, as reported by The Daily Mail.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, SB 239, into law on Friday. The law originally sentenced people who intentionally infected other with HIV to up to eight years in prison. Under the new legislation, jail time will be shortened to six months only. (Related: Why are people still in jail after HIV transmission myths have been exposed?)
The bill was authored by Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who are both Democrats. Supporters of the bill believe that it will remove the stigma of HIV and influence people to get tested and take preventive measures.
“When people are no longer penalized for knowing their status, it encourages them to come forward, get tested and get treatment. That’s good for all Californians,” Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California which is an LGBTQ organization, explained.
In California, HIV was the only sexually transmitted disease (STD) that was considered a felony for intentional transmission, until today. Knowingly donating blood or infecting a partner with any other STD is a misdemeanor.
Weiner said in a statement, as cited by The Daily Mail, that the approval of this bill is a major step towards acknowledging HIV as a public health issue, rather than treating people with the disease as criminals. He believes that this will in turn lower HIV transmission in the state.
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Gloria said in a statement that this law is an essential step to improve the laws to consider the medical advances that no longer make a positive diagnosis equivalent to a death sentence. However, its critics are worried that this will only increase the risk and spread of the disease. They are also worried that HIV-positive people will be careless and irresponsible for the spread of the disease. Moreover, opponents of the bill said that a lot of patients living with HIV do not take their medications continuously enough to stop the spread of the disease.
“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,” said Sen. Jeff Stone.
This recently passed law comes after the development of drugs for preventing and treating HIV that has greatly extended life expectancy and dropped the transmission rates among HIV-infected people. The state made deliberate transmission a felony offense in the 1980s and 1990s because of fear, according to a statement by Weiner and Gloria. It was a time when there was minimal research about HIV.
“It is not only fair, but it’s good public health,” Zbur said.
Fast facts on HIV
HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system and leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the last stage of HIV. The virus can be transmitted through the exchange of different body fluids from infected individuals, such as blood, breast milk, semen, and vaginal secretions.
From 2008 to 2014, yearly HIV infections in the United States dropped by 18 percent, from 14,7000 to 37,600, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the end of 2014, around 1.1 million people living in the U.S. have HIV. Meanwhile in California, there are 119,589 people diagnosed with HIV in 2014 — 88 percent are men and the remaining 12 percent are women — according to AIDSVu.org.