California Bill to Reduce HIV Transmission Penalty Moves to Governor

SB239 seeks to reduce the penalty for knowingly exposing sexual partners to HIV to a misdemeanor.

California lawmakers recently voted in favor of bill SB239, which would reduce the current law of knowingly exposing a sexual partner to HIV without disclosing infection from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The bill was first introduced by Sen Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who said the law discriminated against individuals living with HIV because other infectious diseases are categorized as a misdemeanor, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Right now, HIV is singled out for uniquely harsh treatment as a felony,” Sen Wiener said during the floor debate, as reported by the LA Times.

This reduction in crime level would also apply to individuals who donate blood or semen without disclosing their positive status.

Several senators voted against the bill, stating it would put the public at risk.

“I’m of the mind that if you purposely inflict another with a disease that alters their lifestyle the rest of their life, puts them on a regiment of medications to maintain any kind of normalcy, it should be a felony,” Sen Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) told the LA Times. “It’s absolutely crazy to me that we should go light on this.”

Sen Wiener argued that antiretroviral therapy can help manage the disease in HIV-positive individuals, making them noninfectious to others; however, the current law does not match the science today.

Furthermore, some individuals may opt not to be tested for fear of making them liable of a felony, according to the LA Times.

“These laws do not prevent HIV infections,” Weiner said during the debate, as reported by the LA Times. “All they do is stigmatize people living with HIV and reduce access to testing and care.”

The bill now moves to the governor for a ruling. It is supported by several groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Black AIDS Institute.