US: Louisiana HIV decriminalisation bill to be revisited at a later date

Lawmakers stall on bill to change state’s HIV law

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – Some at the state legislature believe the penalty for intentionally passing it along to someone else should not be as harsh with HIV no longer being the death sentence that it once was.

“It really is now a chronic disease like diabetes, like hypertension even though the transmission is certainly not the same,” said Jennifer Avegno with the New Orleans Health Department.

A task force was recently created to review the current data we have around HIV and how our state can update its laws. Health professionals today claim the law deters people from getting tested or treated.

“Many states like Georgia, Texas, Florida, others like Virginia have updated their laws. So, we’re currently just trying to update the laws,” said Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman (D-New Orleans).

Under HB436 Rep. Freeman, those convicted would have their fine be reduced from $5,000 to $1,000, reduce the amount of time behind bars from 10 years to 1 year, and also redefine the crime by calling it “intentional transmission of HIV” instead of “intentional exposure to HIV”. The argument is that transmission is specific to those who actually become infected, while exposure is too broad of a term that could result in someone who’s infected being arrested for exposure after they’ve spit on someone.

“In 2009 I was convicted of intentional exposure to the aids virus. Without my consent, my home was searched and ultimately, I was arrested at work. And I would add that I was an employee at the 2nd circuit court of appeal, so I was embarrassingly arrested in front of my co-workers and peers,” said Robert Suttle who has HIV.

However, some said the concerns about the laws vagueness was address in 2018 when the law was amended.

“And that is when spitting on someone and some of these other outdated methods of quote unquote transmission were repealed from our law. Those do not exist,” said Kathleen Barrios with the 19th J.D.

This caused some on the committee to take a pause on how they were about to vote. Before it got to that point Representative Freeman decided to pull her bill and bring it back for another try later after she’s had time to get on the same page with the district attorneys.

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