Starting Jan. 1, it will no longer be a felony in California to knowingly expose a sexual partner to HIV with the intention of spreading the virus.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D.) signed the legislation last Friday to lower the offense to a misdemeanor, CNN reported.
The previous law gave people who intentionally spread HIV up to eight years in prison. The new legislation lowers the jail time to a maximum of six months. It will also eliminate the felony penalty for those who knowingly donate HIV-infected blood; supporters of the law argue that all donated blood is already screened for the virus.
The bill’s sponsors—Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, both Democrats—believe that the laws and stigma surrounding HIV stops people from getting tested for HIV and seeking treatment to improve their health.
They suggest that because of California’s current “discriminatory laws” concerning punishment for those who knowingly spread HIV, citizens are purposefully avoiding learning about the possibility of having contracted the virus.
Wiener and Gloria hope that, with the passage of this legislation, people will seek treatment to improve their health and lower their chances of passing on the virus through sexual intercourse.
“The most effective way to reduce HIV infections is to destigmatize HIV,” Weiner told CNN. “To make people comfortable talking about their infection, get tested, get into treatment.”
Many Republicans have come out in staunch opposition to SB 239, saying that it could have an adverse effect and lead to an increase in HIV infections.
Sen. Jeff Stone voted against the bill and expressed his disapproval in September when the Senate voted on it. Stone, who is a pharmacist, challenged Wiener and Gloria’s argument that modern medicine can lower the spread of HIV.
“If you don’t take your AIDS medications and you allow for some virus to duplicate and show a presence, then you are able to transmit the disease to an unknowing partner,” Stone said on the Senate floor.
He said that three out of four people who are on prescription medication in the U.S. do not follow their doctor’s instructions correctly on how to properly take it.
Another Republican, Sen. Joel Anderson, said it is irresponsible not to disclose the possibility of a life-altering infection to someone you could potentially pass it on to.
“The critical word in this is ‘intentionally,'” Anderson said in September. “When you intentionally put others at risk, you should have responsibility.”
Those who knowingly and intentionally transmit HIV in California will now possibly face a lower prison sentence than those who use the wrong pronoun when referring to transgender patients in long-term care facilities.
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