SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – California lawmakers are re-evaluating a 30-year-old law on HIV disclosure. Right now, intentionally exposing someone to HIV is a felony that could result in seven years in prison. But some state leaders call it discrimination and want the laws to reflect advances in modern medicine.
Senate Bill 239 aims to change laws that criminalize and stigmatize people living with HIV. Furthermore, the authors hope to make laws consistent with laws regarding other infectious diseases.
“I was young,” said Alejandro Contreras, recalling the fear he felt 9 years ago when he was diagnosed with HIV. “I’m 21, this is over! What am I doing? I actually lost friends.
And he’s not alone. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the fear of HIV and AIDS spread quickly, prompting California to create laws making it a felony to knowingly expose someone to HIV.
“When these laws were enacted, there was no effective treatment for HIV,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) who wrote SB 239. “It was for many people a death sentence.”
But Wiener said it’s a new era, with new medication that makes the likelihood of infecting another person with HIV very low.
“You don’t reduce HIV infections by classifying people as felons,” Wiener said. “You reduce HIV infections by giving people access to healthcare and information.”
Weiner explained that knowingly exposing someone to other infectious diseases is classified as a misdemeanor and said he thinks HIV should be no different. But not everyone has the same perspective.
“This is a serious attack,” said state Sen. Joel Anderson, (R-San Diego). “We’re not talking about somebody who transfers it in an innocent way. We’re talking about somebody who does it to harm you!”
In his opinion, the felony rule should stand because transmitting HIV could affect someone for the rest of their life.
“I think that that person, that victim deserves better from us,” Anderson said.
Since his diagnosis, Contreras said he’s learned and educated people on how a person with HIV can live a happy and healthy life.
“I feel like in the last 10 years, there has been a lot of research and a lot of de-stigmatization,” he said. “But it still exists.”
Now, he believes the state is on the right track to encourage more people to get tested for HIV and seek treatment.
“They can get it off their record and they can live successful lives, get back into the job market and not have the fear of having relationships with other people with a felony on their back,” Contreras said. “I always know that California, whatever we decide, the rest of the country follows,” Contreras said.
The Senate Public Safety Committee voted in favor of the bill on Tuesday.