A bill that’s steadily progressing in Washington state would reduce the penalty for intentionally exposing another to blood-borne pathogens like HIV.
The bill, which passed the state House earlier this month, is now in committee in the Senate. If it passes, the bill – originally proposed by the state’s Department of Health – would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally expose a sexual partner to HIV, reducing the penalty from a felony.
The bill would also allow minors of at least 14 years of age to consent to preventative treatment against HIV infection, without prior approval from a parent or guardian.
It would also update the language in existing law, broadening most references from just “HIV/AIDS” to “blood-borne pathogen” or “sexually transmitted disease.”
Support for the bill has largely been divided by party lines. Though it passed the House, the vote was far from unanimous – with 57 yeas from Republicans and 40 nays from Democrats.
Debate around the bill splits like this
Those in favor of the bill have said the current legislation is out of date, and stigmatizes those living with HIV. At a public hearing last year in the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, who represents Tacoma, said the 30-year-old law was based on a “really limited knowledge of HIV.”
“It was an emerging infection, it had no effective treatment,” she said. “When people got it, they died quickly, so there was no standard set at all for HIV care and counseling and things like that.”
Now, Jinkins continued, it’s a different story. We’re in an era of actually ending the AIDS epidemic, she said, and many people are able to live long lives with HIV, as advancements in medicine prevent its spread. That’s why the law should be modernized, she said.
Rep. Nicole Macri echoed those convictions in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
“Fear led our state to criminalize the disease during the height of the HIV/AIDS panic, leading to more tragic deaths as people were discouraged from seeking testing and treatment to avoid punishment,” she said.
Not everyone agrees, though.
Rep. Michelle Caldier voted against the measure when it went through the House. She argued the change would pose a public safety risk.
“If someone intends to cause great bodily harm with a disease like HIV, they should be punished accordingly — not given a free ticket to spread this infection to whomever they choose,” she wrote in a statement.
More than 30 states have HIV-specific criminal laws, according to the Center for HIV Law and Policy.