Excellent news. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has introduced landmark legislation to call attention to the nation's patchwork of laws that criminalize the exposure and transmission of HIV.
The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act calls for the explicit review of all federal and state laws and regulations regarding "the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses. It then creates incentives for governments to reform existing policies that use the law to target HIV-positive people," notes Housing Works.
From the ACLU:
There are presently 34 states that have criminal laws that punish people for exposing another person to HIV, even in the absence of actual HIV transmission or a meaningful risk that transmission could occur. Many of these laws were enacted early in the epidemic, before people understood how HIV was and was not transmitted, but the laws have not been changed. And many people are serving long sentences for conduct that poses no meaningful risk of transmission of HIV, such as spitting or biting.
In March 2010, the ACLU of Michigan filed an amicus brief in the jaw-dropping case of a man living with HIV who faced bio-terrorism charges after he allegedly bit another man during an altercation (despite the fact that HIV is not spread through saliva). Fortunately, a judge eventually threw out the bio-terrorism charges against the man. Additional cases include that of a Texas man living with HIV who received a 35-year sentence for spitting at a police officer because under Texas law his saliva was considered a "deadly weapon."
A fact sheet created by the Center for HIV Law and Policy, AIDS United, Lambda Legal and the ACLU AIDS Project summarizes the issues with HIV criminalization and the measures the new bill takes to address them. The co-sponsors include Donna Christensen (D-VI), Steve Cohen (D-TN); Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Jesse Jackson Jr. D-IL); Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Mike Quigley (D-IL); Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA).
The Obama Administration released the nation's first National HIV/AIDS Strategy in July 2010. The NHAS emphasized that HIV-related stigma "remains extremely high" and called for a review of all criminalization. Last fall the Black AIDS Institute analyzed NHAS' potential impact on Black America. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our report.