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Thursday, October 29, 2015

BEYOND AIDS 2015 LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITIES, AND THE CONTROVERSIAL ISSUE OF "DECRIMINALIZATION"

The following positions were adopted during 2015 by the Beyond AIDS Board of Directors.

A.     Federal:

HR 768 (Waters), would have required routine HIV testing in federal prisons with pre-and- post-test counseling. Beyond AIDS offered support if amended to delete requirements for pre-test counseling, and thus to be in accord with 2006 CDC recommendations. Rep. Waters has been introducing this bill every Congressional session since 2007, but has had no luck with it. As previously, this bill did not even get a committee hearing.

B.     California:

AB 521 (Nazarian), will require that HIV screening be routinely offered to hospital inpatients. The law already required similar offering of HIV screening by primary care physicians. The bill was sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Beyond AIDS added support. It passed, but was unfortunately vetoed.

AB 517 (Gallagher), would have required special parental information, and originally opt-in consent, for HIV and sex education in schools when delivered by outside educators. Beyond AIDS opposed the bill as written, but withdrew active opposition when the opt-in requirement deleted. Regardless, the bill did not pass.

An initiative sponsored by AIDS Health Care Foundation, would require condoms for adult film industry. Beyond AIDS has endorsed the initiative. Legislation on this topic has bogged down in the Legislature. Los Angeles County approved an initiative that applies only to that county, and is discussed in another blog post here. The initiative has apparently gathered sufficient signatures for the November 2016 ballot.

C.     Rhode Island:

H 5245 (Nardolilo/Ucci), would have established felony penalties for exposure to HIV without consent.  Beyond AIDS opposed the bill as written as too Draconian, but offered to work with the authors on a future bill with less severe penalties, proportionate to the risk imposed on the uninformed partner. This year's bill did not pass.

This is a highly controversial topic, even within Beyond AIDS. The organization recognizes that education and counseling succeed in modifying unsafe sexual and drug risk exposure by most infected persons, We also oppose certain inappropriate prosecutions that have occurred in some places. However, several Beyond AIDS Board members have encountered irresponsible persons who have recklessly or intentionally endangered others through unsafe activities, without even informing them. We therefore do not agree with the mantra "Take a test, risk arrest," used by those who want the actions of HIV-infected persons, however dangerous, to be totally immune to criminal liability.

An analogy offered by some Beyond AIDS members is that gun and automobile ownership and licensure are provided for by law, but that does not exempt the persons licensed from responsibility. If someone uses a gun for target practice or hunting, it is perfectly legal. But if a person shoots a gun at innocent people, or drives a car into a crowd, s/he will be appropriately prosecuted. Another analogy deals with sexual activity, irrespective of HIV or any STD. Consensual sex with a person of consent age is legal, but rape or sex with a minor is not.

Similarly, there is nothing criminal about being HIV positive. But endangering someone else's life through unsafe sex or needle-sharing, while having a high viral load (e.g., refusing to take medication), and without even informing the other person, is another matter.

What if condoms are used, or the infected person has an undetectable viral load, yet the partner is not informed in order to have the power to decline any small remaining risk? This issue will undoubtedly continue to be debated, and the perfect legal balance has not yet been defined. 


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