Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill Friday that lowers the charge for knowingly transmitting HIV to a sexual partner from a felony to a misdemeanor. The bill, SB-239, was passed by California legislature on September 11 and will be effective starting January 1st, 2018.
It also applies to HIV-positive blood donors who fail to notify the blood bank about their condition.
The new law works to clear the stigma against HIV-infection and treat it the same way as other serious communicable diseases, explained the bill sponsors, Senator Scott Weiner and Assemblyman Todd Gloria.
“Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” said Sen. Wiener. 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.”
Despite the research that shows regular treatment of HIV positive people almost completely negates the possibility of transmission to their partners, the former law sentenced a perpetrator of knowing exposure to up to eight years in jail without taking into account possibility of infection. HIV was the only disease whose exposure was considered a felony.
The bill faced significant opposition from Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Joel Anderson, who argued that it would increase rates of HIV infection. “If you purposefully inflict another with a disease that alters their lifestyle the rest of their life, puts them on a regimen of medications to maintain any kind of normalcy, it should be a felony,” said Sen. Anderson in September.
Several LGBT organizations, such as Equality California and The Los Angeles LGBT Center, expressed their support for SB-239. “It will really advance public health and reduce stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV have suffered,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California.