California Assembly passes bill to end HIV criminalization laws

SACRAMENTO — California’s 30-year-old laws that criminalize HIV are one step closer to being taken off the books.

SB 239 passed its last legislative hurdle on Thursday when the Assembly approved it 44-13 with 23 members abstaining.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-Francisco) authored the bill.

“I’m proud that California is finally moving past the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s, when some were advocating to quarantine HIV-positive people and when many states criminalized HIV,” Wiener said in statement to Q Voice News. “To stop the spread of this virus, we need to treat HIV as a health issue, not a criminal issue. By repealing these laws, we are taking a step toward our shared goal of ending HIV infections.”

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The SB 239 will return to the Senate, which passed it in May, for a concurrent vote.

The bill will then go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will have until October 15 to sign or veto it.

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BASED ON FEAR

California laws — enacted in the 1980s and 1990s at the height of the AIDS scare — that criminalize HIV are discriminatory, based on fear and ignorance — not science — and stigmatize people who have the chronic disease, said officials and experts who are working to change the laws.

For example, under current law, if a person who knows they are infected with HIV has unprotected sex without telling their partner they have the virus, they can be convicted of a felony and face up to eight years of jail time. Intentional transmission of any other communicable disease — even a potentially deadly condition like hepatitis — is a misdemeanor.

HUNDREDS CONVICTED

Between 1988 and 2014, at least 800 people were arrested, charged or otherwise came into contact with the criminal justice system related to their HIV status, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Almost 400 people were convicted.

The study also found HIV criminalization laws disproportionately impacted women and people of color.

BROAD SUPPORT

SB 239 is co-sponsored by ACLU of California, APLA Health, Black AIDS Institute, Equality California, Lambda Legal and Positive Women’s Network – USA.

It’s also supported by Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform, a broad coalition of people living with HIV, HIV and health service providers, civil rights organizations and public health professionals.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBT community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBT students.