The California Assembly recently passed Senate Bill 239, which reduces the penalty for those who intentionally expose another person to HIV. Approved by a 44-13 vote, the bill would treat HIV just like any other communicable diseases under California law, thereby reducing intentional exposure from a felony to a misdemeanor. The bill now goes back to the Senate for final approval before seeking its probable approval by Governor Jerry Brown (D).

The bill was supported by the ACLU of California, APLA Health, Black AIDS Institute, Equality Lambda Legal, and Positive Women's Network.

In a brief supporting the change in California law, Equality California argued: “Criminalization serves only to fuel continued stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.”  Equality California argued further: “These laws work against public health. They provide an incentive not to know your HIV status because you can only be prosecuted if you know you are HIV-positive. They create mistrust of public health professionals, making people who have tested HIV-positive less likely to cooperate with partner notification, treatment adherence and prevention programs. And they place HIV-negative people in harm's way by making them believe they can engage in risky behaviors without the risk.”

Between 1988 and 2014, according to a study conducted by the Williams Institute, at least 800 people were arrested, charged or came into contact with the California criminal justice system because of their HIV status. The Williams Institute concluded that such laws disproportionately affect women and ethnic minorities, including black Americans. 



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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