Legislation would change STD criminal statutes
OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma lawmaker filed a bill that would amend the state’s criminal statutes regarding sexually transmitted diseases. Specifically, the bill would increase the number of behaviors considered criminal but reclassify all of the crimes as misdemeanors.
Oklahoma already has a law that criminalizes the knowing and deceptive transmission of infections, such as syphilis, smallpox and HIV. If a person keeps the diagnosis a secret from a partner and gives the partner the disease, the resident could face a felony.
Newly elected Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Oklahoma City, filed the measure that would add a slew of diseases to the list and expound on the kind of behavior considered criminal, but it would drop the maximum penalty.
House Bill 1858 would add about half a dozen diseases to the state statute on STDs. That includes some household names, such as genital herpes and chlamydia. However, it also includes several diseases that aren’t common in the United States or other developed countries, such as chancroid and granuloma inguinale.
Under current law, residents are culpable if they are infected and intentionally or recklessly spread their infections. Fugate’s bill would change that standard. The proposal would affect residents who know they are infected and either intentionally spread it or engage in conduct that poses a substantial risk of transmission while the other person is unaware the resident is infected.
The bill creates an exemption for residents who are undergoing treatment and have displayed good faith in complying with their physician’s prescribed regimen. It also exempts residents who are following behaviors recommended by a public health official, such as using condoms.
Current law makes these crimes a felony and punishable by at least two but up to five years in state prison. The new law would drop that to a misdemeanor, which could carry a sentence of up to one year in county jail or a fine of $1,000.
Fugate did not respond to requests for comment.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported in August that the state saw 31,779 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed in 2017, an increase from 29,716 reported in 2016. The most significant increase was found in the number of syphilis cases, with an increase of 36.5 percent in one year. Reports indicate an increase of nearly 20 percent in the number of gonorrhea cases.
The United Health Foundation released America’s Health Rankings in December, in which it ranked Oklahoma 47th in overall health. The same data showed that Oklahoma’s rate of chlamydia far outpaced the nation’s. Oklahomans were diagnosed at a rate of 548.4 per 100,000, whereas nationally the rate was 497.3 per 100,000. Oklahoma came in at 38th in terms of chlamydia diagnoses. Alaska came in at 50th with 771.6 cases per 100,000.
Nicole McAfee is the Smart Justice Campaign manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. She said Oklahomans on each side of the aisle are working to reform the criminal justice system, and that will require approaching issues like this one differently.
“What we ultimately need to do is decarcerate our prisons and jails,” her written statement says in part. “That requires thinking twice about our immediate reaction to use carceral punishment as a response to a public health crisis.”