Florida Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Modernize HIV Criminal Law on World AIDS Day
Coinciding with World AIDS Day, Senator Jason Pizzo (D-Miami) and Representative Felicia Robinson (D-Miami Gardens) have introduced identical bills in the Senate (SB 1074) and House of Representatives (HB 813) to bring an outdated criminal law in line with the contemporary understanding of HIV. Florida’s laws written at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic makes it a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison for a person living with HIV to have sexual contact without first disclosing the diagnosis to their potential sexual partner, regardless of whether the contact presents any risk of transmission. The bills limit criminal liability to situations in which the person living with HIV intends to cause harm and engages in conduct that can transmit HIV.
“This modernization of Florida’s HIV-focused criminal laws is long overdue,” said Rep. Robinson upon filing the bill in the House. “Today, people living with HIV who are receiving appropriate treatment live long, healthy lives—and those same treatments make it impossible to transmit HIV sexually. Given these advances, the criminal law should stop treating HIV differently from any other transmissible infection.”
Advocates view the prospects for these bills as good given how COVID-19 has changed public perceptions regarding transmissible disease and the appropriate role of the government in controlling choices about the risks that people take, particularly in the privacy of their own homes.
“Imposing criminal penalties to attempt to control a transmissible disease was never sound public policy—and COVID-19 has made that clear to more people,” said Sen. Pizzo. “We hope to see bipartisan support this session for fixing these laws that turn law-abiding citizens into criminals based on the fact that they are living with a manageable, transmissible disease and choose to live their lives like anyone else.”
Kamaria Laffrey, who leads the Florida HIV Justice Coalition, noted the benefits to public health and efforts to end the HIV epidemic in Florida: “We want people to get tested for HIV and to remain engaged in care and treatment if they test positive, but the threat of criminal prosecution under the current law is a barrier to these things,” said Laffrey. “By eliminating criminal penalties and reducing the intense stigma associated with HIV, we make it easier for people to seek the testing and care they need and for everyone to have frank conversations about the risks involved in any sexual encounter.”
States including Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan have recently revised similar HIV criminalization laws, recognizing the significant advances in science for treatment and prevention from the laws’ original enactments.
Since 1988, World AIDS Day has been observed on December 1, and is a time to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic and remember those lost to AIDS.
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