AIDS-ribbonA group of state lawmakers is proposing that it no longer be a felony for someone to knowingly expose others to HIV/AIDS by engaging in unprotected sex and not telling a partner about the infection.

The measure by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and others would make such acts a misdemeanor, a proposal that has sparked opposition from Republican lawmakers, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

The same downgrade in crime level would apply to people who donate blood or semen without telling the blood or semen bank that they have AIDS or have tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, which precedes AIDS.

People now convicted of such felonies can be sentenced up to seven years in prison.

“HIV-related stigma is one of our main obstacles to reducing and ultimately eliminating infections,” Wiener said in remarks reported by The Times. “When you criminalize HIV or stigmatize people who have HIV it encourages people not to get tested, to stay in the shadows, not to be open about their status, not to seek treatment.”

Between 1988 and June 2014, there were 357 convictions in California for an HIV-specific felony that would have been downgraded by SB 239, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, which conducts research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, The Times reported.

The vast majority of convictions were in prostitution solicitation incidents in which it is unknown whether any contact beyond a conversation or an exchange of money was initiated, the researchers said.

Wiener said the felony law is a vestige of a darker time during the 1980s, when there was no effective treatment for AIDS and some people were calling for putting those infected in quarantine.

Medical advances in recent years that developed anti-retroviral medicines have allowed people to extend their lives significantly. Some 18.2 million people are on the medications. The number of people who died from AIDS worldwide dropped from 2 million in 2005 to 1.1 million last year, many in developing countries.

Legislators who support the measure say medicine has made the current law unfair. The monthly HIV treatment regimen costs range from $2,000 to $5,000, according to the California Department of Public Health.

—City News Service


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