Virginia state capitol in Richmond.Photo: Wikimedia
A proposed law in the state of Virginia would repeal the state’s criminalization of the transmission of HIV and would end the “crime” of donating blood or body tissue while having HIV or the hepatitis B or C viruses
Senate Bill 1138 “repeals the crime of infected sexual battery,” as exposing or transmitting HIV it is currently classified as under the law. If passed, it would end Virginia’s tenure as one of 37 states that criminalizes people living with the virus.
State senators Mamie Locke (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D) introduced S.B. 1138 on January 13. It has passed the Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee, read on the Senate floor, and is currently under consideration by the full Senate body.
In a press release, McClellan — a candidate for Virginia governor — stated that “living with HIV should not be a crime.
“We know current laws deter testing and create additional barriers for vulnerable populations. HIV criminalization is a critical public health issue that lawmakers can help solve by passing SB 1138.”
Proud to stand with @SenatorLocke to carry SB1138 modernizing Virginia’s outdated and ineffective HIV criminalization laws, which stigmatize people with HIV, especially BIPOC individuals. The bill reported from the @vasenate Judiciary Committee and heads to the floor. pic.twitter.com/kreKqXxaUZ
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) January 28, 2021
I have 3 bills coming up on the @VASenate floor today.
1-The Protect the American Dream Act (SB1327) protecting homeowners from foreclosures
2- SB1138 w/ @SenatorLocke to repeal discriminatory HIV laws
3- SB1439 to increase civic engagement among middle/high school students
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) February 2, 2021
Virginia is one of 26 states with HIV-specific laws that criminalize or control behaviors that can potentially expose another person to HIV, according to the CDC. Another 11 also have laws related to sexually-transmitted or infectious diseases, which could include HIV. Another three have laws that allow for prison sentences to be “enhanced,” or lengthened, if a person has HIV.
Only the District of Columbia and 11 other states currently do not criminalize HIV in any specific state laws. Virginia would be the first such state in the South if S.B. 1138 becomes law.
Studies by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law in places such as Georgia found that enforcement of HIV criminalization laws result in further disproportionate policing of non-white people. In Georgia, Black men and women are significantly more likely to be arrested for HIV-related offenses than their white peers, and Black men are almost twice as likely to receive a conviction in comparison to white men.
“These outdated, dangerous, and discriminatory laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other persons of color,” Vee Lamneck, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a press release.
“To ensure an equitable state for Black and Brown individuals and to promote public health, it’s essential lawmakers pass S.B. 1138.”
“Virginia’s current HIV laws are rooted in fear and racial biases. Criminalization increases stigma and harms marginalized communities. Data shows that these laws target and harm women of color, women who do sex work, and transgender women,” Deirdre Johnson, co-founder of the Ending Criminalization of HIV and Overincarceration in Virginia Coalition (ECHO-VA) added.
Over the last two fiscal years, ten people in the state have received convictions for committing or attempting to commit “infected sexual battery,” data provided by the proposed legislation notes. Seven were convicted of misdemeanors and three of felonies.