Lawmakers, health officials push Missouri HIV law rewrite

8 months 2 weeks 5 days ago Saturday, December 01 2018 Dec 1, 2018 Saturday, December 01, 2018 1:41:00 PM CST December 01, 2018 in News

JEFFERSON CITY — Some Missouri legislators and public health professionals are calling for a rewrite of the state's HIV laws, which they say are outdated and medically inaccurate.

Republican Rep. Holly Rehder and Democratic Rep. Tracy McCreery proposed bills in the last legislative session to reduce the state's penalties for exposing someone to HIV, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported . They plan to present the same bills in the 2019 session.

Missouri's roughly 30-year-old law states that an HIV-positive individual could be convicted of a felony if he or she exposes a partner to the disease without the partner's knowledge or consent. The law gives a minimum 10-year sentence for transmitting HIV and minimum five-year sentence for knowingly exposing someone to HIV.

Advocates have argued that such laws result in questionable prosecutions and negative public health outcomes.

"The penalty provisions that were enacted back then were designed to hold somebody accountable for basically causing someone's eventual death," said Timothy Lohmar, St. Charles County prosecutor. "I think nowadays we realize that with the advancements in science and medicine, that HIV is not necessarily a death sentence."

When the state's HIV laws were written in the 1980s, little was known about the disease, said Dr. Fred Rottnek, a St. Louis University public health professor and HIV/AIDS advocate.

Missouri lawmakers authored laws that didn't accurately reflect how the disease is spread, such as outlawing biting by HIV-positive individuals, Rottnek said.

He said that laws like Missouri's might discourage people from getting tested because knowing their status could result in a criminal charge, should the individual expose another person to HIV.

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study also found that HIV laws have had no impact on preventing the spread of the disease.

Both Rehder and McCreery's bills not only reduce penalties, but make condom and medication use to reduce viral loads affirmative defenses in court. The legislation would allow prosecutors to consider whether a person's activity carried a substantial risk of transmission, backed by scientific evidence.

These changes to the law would encourage more residents to know their status, Rehder said.

"We want people to know their status and to get treatment so that we're not spreading HIV," she said.

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