Soon, it will no longer be a felony for a person infected with HIV to have unprotected sex with a partner without disclosing the condition. Instead, because of a bill signed by California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday, Oct. 6, doing so will merely count as a misdemeanor.
The new measure also applies to those who donate blood without telling the blood bank that they have HIV. Previously, those who knowingly donate blood despite their HIV positive status would receive up to six years in prison.
HIV Penalty Lowered In California: Here's Why
According to state senator Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Todd Gloria, the bill's authors, modern medicine allows people who suffer from HIV to live longer lives, and that it nearly eliminates the possibility of transmitting the virus.
"[T]hat's what SB 239 does."
Previously, people convicted of the crime — defined as a person exposing their partner to HIV via unprotected sex despite knowing that they are HIV-positive during the act — would be punished by serving up to eight years in state prison, according to reports.
The bill's proponents said that in order to justify a felony, current California law requires an intent to expose someone to HIV, but others noted that some cases have been prosecuted where there was no physical contact. As Los Angeles Times reports, there was an argument intent that was lacking.
The bill's supporters also claimed that female sex workers are "disproportionately" charged, even in instances where the virus isn't even transmitted.
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Some of the bill's critics, meanwhile, argue that the bill could put other people at risk. According to senator Joel Anderson, intentionally inflicting someone with a disease that "alters their lifestyle the rest of their life" and requires them to be on regular medication that prevents them from maintaining "any kind of normalcy" should be a felony.
A number of other Republicans rejected the bill, arguing that the measure could lead to increased HIV infections. Anderson also said it could be extended to other communicable diseases apart from HIV.
Bear in mind that knowingly transmitting HIV is still illegal, along with other communicable or infectious diseases, but SB 239 reduces it to a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than six months.
The new bill will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, meaning current California laws regarding transmission of communicable diseases will still apply until then.