In the state of Washington, if you knowingly infect someone with HIV, you could soon be receiving a much lighter punishment — and it’s partially because Democrats there want to reduce the “stigma” around LGBT individuals, the same people who arguably be most negatively affected by this change.
According to KING-TV, it’s currently a felony to knowingly transmit the disease to a sexual partner. House Bill 1551, introduced by state Rep. Laurie Jenkins — a Democrat, of course — would reduce that to a misdemeanor.
Part of the reason, they say, is because the bill hasn’t been updated since the 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was a death sentence that, quite rightly, led to individuals being frightened.
The bill passed the House by a 57-40 margin last week and now heads to the state Senate.
Republican Rep. Michelle Caldier provided the most visible opposition to the bill.
“One of our most basic and top priorities as state lawmakers should be public safety,” Caldier said in a statement Feb. 12. “Lowering the punishment for intentional transmission or exposure to HIV puts innocent people at risk and removes their ability for informed consent.”
Caldier also noted the law often has been used to get plea deals out of accused rapists.
“This is also a slap in the face to the victims of sexual assault,” she said. “What do you say to a 14-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy who were raped by men with HIV? We have two such cases in Kitsap County.
“It’s difficult to get a rape conviction because witnesses are so traumatized and reluctant to take the stand. However, prosecutors have been able to use this law to charge these rapists and get a felony conviction. Under this bill, it becomes a misdemeanor — the same crime as stealing a candy bar. Those rape victims deserve justice — and this legislation will let rapists go free and open the gates to more victimization.”
The bill also allows minors as young as 14 to receive treatment for sexually transmitted diseases — including HIV — without parental knowledge.
Meanwhile, the top surrogate for the legislation was state Rep. Nicole Macri.
“The stigma around HIV continues to intrude on the privacy of what should be known as consensual sex. Non-consensual sex is not the issue here. We need to stop allowing for the stigmatization of LGBTQ people,” Macri, a Seattle Democrat, said.
“There are provisions in the bill before us that address disclosure concerns and allow for practical means to address prosecution,” she said.
KTTH-AM’s Jason Rantz noted that Macri’s statements on the House floor went a bit further than that, however, with the representative saying that HIV is “a treatable, a chronic illness, and not a moral failing or criminal justice issue.”
It may not be a moral failing to have the disease, but it’s definitely a moral failing to knowingly pass it on to someone else without informing that person of your status.
And, by the by, it would still be a criminal justice issue, just not one that’s dealt with as harshly. House Bill 1551 would make transmission punishable by a sentence of no more than 90 days in jail or a fine of no more than $1,000.
Another moral failing belongs to whoever wrote and/or signed off on the summary of the bill, which argues the punishment should be reduced because HIV isn’t really that bad anymore.
“For the vast majority of people with HIV it is treated in outpatient clinics and with once-a-day medications. People living with HIV now have nearly normal life expectancies,” the summary reads.
“These advancements are amazing, but our laws have not caught up. Not changing these laws make the job of public health that much harder and continues the stigma. Criminalizing people with a disease state is not a banner we can support. We will end HIV through treatment not by threatening people with prison. Undetectable means untransmittable. Some provisions do not go far enough, but this bill does many good things and will help end HIV in Washington.”
Read that last sentence to yourself again. Reducing the penalty for passing on HIV to another partner “will help end HIV in Washington.” Anyone who writes that statement is morally adrift. I don’t even want to consider a human being who would actually believe it.
We don’t know whether this will be coming to Washington state yet; the Senate still has to weigh in, and although the Democrats control the Senate, perhaps the jaws agape across the fruited plain will persuade them to scuttle this for another session.
However, more worrisome is the outside chance that what Washington state is now considering could be coming to Washington, D.C., soon.
At one of those interminable single-issue town halls CNN was fond of hosting last year for Democratic presidential candidates — this one on LGBT issues — three of the attending candidates voiced their opposition to state laws punishing HIV nondisclosure.
One of those candidates — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker — has dropped out. Two of them are still in it: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. After the first two contests of the primary season, Buttigieg is the delegate leader.
.@PeteButtigieg says criminal penalties for not informing a sexual partner that you are HIV-positive are “unfair and needs to change.”
The argument is that if the virus is undetectable it is untransmittable. pic.twitter.com/BxWFhuwmbS
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) October 11, 2019
Buttigieg, who is gay, said such laws are “not fair and it needs to change.”
Other states have already taken the plunge.
In 2017, California reduced the penalty for knowingly exposing a partner to HIV without the person’s consent from a felony carrying a three-to-eight-year sentence to a misdemeanor with a maximum six-month sentence, according to NBC News.
State Sen. Scott Weiner, one of the authors of the bill, gave the same rationale for the change that legislators in Washington are doing: He was just looking to “modernize” the state’s HIV transmission legislation.
“Legislators passed a number of laws three decades ago, at the height of the HIV epidemic, that criminalized behaviors of people living with HIV or added HIV-related penalties to existing crimes,” Wiener said.
“These laws were based on fear and on the limited medical understanding of the time. … In the decades since, societal and medical understanding of HIV has greatly improved. Effective treatments dramatically lengthen and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV — treatments that also nearly eliminate the possibility of transmission.”
We act as if these treatments are like a vitamin. According to Healthline, in addition to prosaic side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, rash and mood changes, these drugs can lead to liver damage, kidney damage, heart disease, bone loss and diabetes, among other things. Such medication requires strict adherence and also costs up to $20,000 a year. And, by the way, there’s still a chance you may die of the disease. Antiretroviral drugs aren’t a cure-all.
To make things worse, this bill is marketed as some sort of victory for the LGBT community. Who, pray tell, do the legislators think will be most affected by this? Knowing what we know about HIV, this isn’t even a question we need to ask — and yet, we’re told this is a victory for the victims.
Yes, we’ve made tremendous strides in treating HIV. That doesn’t mean uninformed exposure isn’t serious anymore.
This is beyond a bad idea.
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