California: intentional transmission of HIV may soon no longer be a felony
A California law that made the intentional transmission of HIV a felony could soon be changed. In 1988, it was made a felony for people who were aware they were HIV-positive to donate blood. In 1998, it was made a felony to engage in unprotected sex with the intention of transmitting HIV to a partner.
From 1988 to 2014, 800 people came into contact with the California justice system due to HIV/AIDS-specific laws or due to the intersection of their HIV status and the misdemeanor exposure law. Of those, 95% were confirmed or suspected sex workers.
Now, lawmakers say, it is time to stop singling out HIV/AIDS. Senate Bill 239, introduced by Democratic state lawmakers, makes the intentional transmission of any communicable or infectious disease a crime; moreover, it designates this crime a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
"I think some of it is based on homophobia," said Rick Zbur, executive director of the LGBT civil rights organization Equality California. "And these laws were based on fear of the disease. They were passed quickly, when there was very little known about the disease, and based on public fear that was occurring in the late '80s at the height of the epidemic. This happened across the country."
Advocacy groups point out that HIV/AIDS-specific laws have a disproportionate effect on the LGBT community, people of color, and women. Although white males make up 40% of California's HIV-positive population, they account for only 16% of HIV-positive people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. African-Americans and Latinos make up 51% of the state's HIV-positive population, but make up 67% of criminal proceedings involving people living with HIV. Women account for less than 13% of the state's HIV-positive population but account for 43% of criminal proceedings based on HIV status.
If the new bill is signed into law, mandatory criminal penalties for donating blood, organs, semen, or breast milk while knowingly HIV-positive will be eliminated. However, accepting donated bodily substances will remain safe. Other existing laws mandate that all donors be subject to screening procedures for HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis.