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Two States Take Steps to Reform Outdated HIV Laws

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One of the states currently criminalizes consensual sex among HIV-positive people.

Illinois and Nevada have both taken steps to modernize their HIV laws.

The Illinois Senate Tuesday passed House Bill 1063, which will repeal a law that made it a criminal offense for someone with HIV to have consensual sex without a condom. The bill had already been approved by the state’s House of Representatives, and it will now go to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has said he will sign it.

“Current Illinois law makes legal behavior — like consensual sex — illegal and adds harsh penalties for ordinarily minor crimes such as sharing injection-drug equipment,” said a statement from the Illinois HIV Action Alliance. “Under current law, people living with HIV face the threat of arrest, prosecution and incarceration even if they do not transmit HIV to another person.” It was the only Illinois law that criminalized a medical condition, said its Senate sponsor, Robert Peters.

“Laws that criminalize HIV are outdated, dangerous, discriminatory, and out of line with current science,” Peters said in a press release. “This practice has no place in modern society. HIV is a medical condition and must be treated as such. Individuals living with it should not have to fear being punished.”

That current science includes the fact that people with HIV cannot transmit the virus through sex if they are on treatment that has suppressed the virus to an undetectable level. Also, an HIV-negative person taking a preventive drug such as Truvada or Descovy, as directed, has almost no chance of being infected with the virus during sex.

Repealing the criminalization law will encourage people to get tested for HIV, IHAA added. “This legislation will end criminal penalties against people living with HIV, and it will lead to improvements in public health, as more people will get tested and engage in treatment without fear that their HIV-positive status would be used against them.”

In Nevada, both houses of the legislature have approved Senate Bill 275, which doesn’t fully decriminalize HIV but is a step in the right direction, activists said. The Assembly passed it last week and the Senate in April. It now goes to Gov. Steve Sisolak for his signature.

It repeals a law that made it a felony for an HIV-positive person “to intentionally, knowingly or willfully engage in conduct that is intended or likely to transmit the disease,” according to a Silver State Equality press release. “Repealing that statute means a person who has contracted HIV and who engaged in such behavior would instead be given a warning as their first offense and, after a second offense, would be guilty of a misdemeanor — a punishment that is consistent with the treatment of other communicable diseases.”

“We are extremely pleased with the passage of SB 275 via a strong bipartisan vote,” Silver State Equality Director André C. Wade said in the release. “This action will advance the fight against HIV transmission and help to remove HIV stigma that was perpetuated by outdated criminal laws that discouraged disclosure, and thereby testing, treatment and the use of other preventative measures. Even though changing these outdated, ineffective and discriminatory laws is simply common-sense progress, this is a huge move in the right direction.”

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