The Virginia Senate on Feb. 5 passed a bill
that would decriminalize HIV transmission in the state.
Senate Bill 1138, sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), passed by a 21-17 vote margin. It would amend much of the language in the “infected sexual battery” section that focuses on HIV — specifically naming oral and anal sex acts, and replace them with “a sexually transmitted infection” and “sexual behavior that poses a substantial risk of transmission to another person according to current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.”
According to the CDC, laws that criminalize
HIV exposure are relics from the early days of the epidemic and do not follow
current medical understanding for how the virus is treated or transmitted.
“We are encouraged by SB 1138’s progress
through the Virginia Senate, and we are grateful for the leadership of Senator
Locke and Senator McClellan,” Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck.
“Existing criminalization laws are not effective public health strategies, and
that’s why this bill is so necessary.”
The CDC also found state laws that criminalize
behaviors that do not transmit HIV, or do not apply the same standards to other
treatable diseases, discourage HIV testing and are often unequally enforced,
particularly among LGBTQ communities and communities of color.
“It would ensure that more people have access to the HIV testing, prevention, and treatment they need to live full, productive lives,” Lamneck said. “We know all Virginians want a safer, healthier, and more equitable state, and the passage of this bill will help to achieve that.”
The bill heads to the House of Delegates this week.
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