By Samantha Bartholomew
Starting Jan. 1, it will no longer be a felony in California to knowingly expose a sexual partner to HIV with the intent of transmitting the virus.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Oct. 13 that lowers the offense to a misdemeanor.
The law previously punished people who intentionally exposed or infected others with HIV by up to eight years in prison. The new legislation will lower jail time to a maximum of six months.
The new law will also eliminate the penalty for knowingly donating HIV infected blood. This action is a felony under current law and will be decriminalized starting in January. Supporters of the change argue that the previous law was antiquated because all donated blood is tested for HIV.
The bill sponsors, Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Todd Gloria argued California law was outdated and stigmatized people living with HIV, especially given recent advancements in medicine, showing that a person with HIV who undergoes regular treatment has a minimal chance of spreading the infection to others through sexual contact.
“The most effective way to reduce HIV infections is to destigmatize HIV,” Wiener said in a statement. “To make people comfortable talking about their infection, get tested, get into treatment.”
According to AidsVu, a map put out by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that illustrates the prevalence of HIV in the nation, there 119,589 people diagnosed with HIV living in California as of 2014.
While California was shown to be in range with the CDC’s plans in areas such as increasing HIV awareness and linkage to care, the state also showed to be above the goal line of increasing HIV testing with 45.9 percent to the CDC’s 44.2 percent national goal.
Wiener said by destigmatizing HIV, the bill would encourage people to get tested, which will in turn lower HIV transmission in the state.
Sen. Jeff Stone voted against the bill and strongly expressed his disapproval in September when the Senate voted on it.
The senator, a former pharmacist, said three out of four people who are on prescription medication in the U.S. do not comply with their doctor’s orders on how to take it.
“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 that disease to an unknowing partner,” Stone said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Joel Anderson argued that people infected with HIV could never live their lives “to the same extent” again and that it was irresponsible not to disclose the possibility of a life-altering infection.
“The critical word in this is ‘intentionally,’” Anderson said in Sept.. “When you intentionally put others at risk, you should have responsibility.”