Legilsation which will substantially change the criminal code's admonishment of people living with HIV in Iowa is on its way to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. The legislation was unanimously approved by the house in a late night marathon session. It was approved unanimously by the state senate in February of this year.
The legislation will create a tiered system to address HIV nondisclosure. Right now, failing to disclose an HIV status, despite using condoms and having an undetectable viral load, can result in a felony conviction, 25 years in prison and listing in the state's sex offender registry as a top tier sex offender. If Branstad signed the bill into law, which is expected, it would create system where prosecutors will have to prove an intent to transmit HIV as well as actual transmission in order to achieve convictions. The new law will also go back in time and erase those persons convicted of violating the current law and are currently registered as sex offenders.
The bill drew some controversy in that is created two new felony diseases in Iowa. The legislation will also criminalize intentional transmission of infectious tuberculosis and meningitis. To be subjected to prosecution, a person with either bacterial infection would need to know they had the disease and that they were infectious.
Randy Mayer, chief of the bureau of HIV, STD and Hepatitis for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said opposition to the legislation often centered around the inclusion of the other diseases, specifically TB. But in his mind, it was an inappropriate opposition.
"To this [opposition to the inclusive on other diseases] I would reply that I am not sure there is such a think as a lack of criminalization of disease transmission in any state in the U.S. For evidence, I would suggest examining cases where people living with HIV are charged with bioterrorism, attemped murder, or assault. Canada and Texas have no difficulty prosecuting people despite not having HIV-specific criminal statutes," Mayer wrote in an email in early March to a national listserv of decriminalization advocates. "Instead I would suggest there should be an open discussion of the true routes and risks of transmission of specific infectious disease -- with the goal of defining standards of behavior and acceptable consequences for people with diseases of public health consequence and for law enforcement and prosecutors who might want to or be asked to prosecute people who may have exposed others to these serious infectious diseases."
Mayer admits that none of the lawmakers felt the legislation was perfect, but that it opened the door to more conversation and education.