State House votes to decriminalize HIV transmission

 
 
Updated 4/15/2021 8:57 AM

The state House on Wednesday passed a bill that would decriminalize transmission of HIV, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

The current AIDS Confidentiality Act, meant to protect Illinoisans from having an HIV-positive status disclosed or used against them, contains exceptions allowing law enforcement officials to subpoena or petition for the HIV status of criminal defendants to determine whether they should be charged for potential criminal transmission.

 

"We would not put a law on the books today that will criminalize COVID for people who refuse to test, and people who know they're spreading COVID but refused to test and refuse to wear a mask, we would not then criminalize people for knowingly passing COVID," said state Rep. Carol Ammons, an Urbana Democrat and sponsor of the new bill.

Her legislation would repeal existing laws allowing law enforcement or state's attorneys to access the HIV status of an individual and would remove criminal statutes for the transmission of HIV completely.

"This is why we're trying to change this law is because this is the only (sexually transmitted infection) that we have on the books that literally criminalizes certain communities and is specifically targeted," Ammons said.

Witnesses testifying in support of the bill told the committee that the criminal statute has been used in 22 cases since 2012, and fewer than 10 times since 2017.

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"HIV and our knowledge about prevention and transmission has dramatically changed in the last 30 to 40 years," Tom Hughes, executive director of the Illinois Public Health Association said in his testimony to a House committee. "The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recognizes that a person who is HIV positive, but who takes medication regularly stays virally suppressed, is undetectable on their viral load, and is effectively no risk for the transmission of HIV."

According to Hughes, the criminalization of HIV status poses a significant obstacle to public health by incentivizing people to not get tested or disclose their status to their partner out of fear of criminalization.

Hughes said that during his time working for the Illinois Department of Public Health, most cases involving the criminal transmission of HIV "revolved around communities of color" and had a disproportionately negative impact on those groups.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, an Elmhurst Republican, noted that after insulin, HIV medication was "one of our largest spends in the state of Illinois." She indicated that she would support the measure as long as studies showed it would reduce HIV transmissions rather than increase rates once it became decriminalized.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ultimately, Mazzochi and other Republicans on the committee joined the Democratic majority to send the legislation to the House floor, where it was approved in a 90-9 vote.

House Bill 1732, introduced by Rep. Maura Hirschauer, a Batavia Democrat, would expand protections for sexual assault survivors by amending the Civil No Contact Order Act. That law allows for "victims of non-consensual sexual conduct or penetration" to a receive a court order protecting that person, their family, household or someone providing them services from having contact with the perpetrator of the crime.

HB 1732 already passed the committee unanimously last month, but Hirschauer brought it back with an amendment. The version that passed previously allowed for family or household members of the victim to file the petition on their behalf.

Hirschauer's amendment to her bill, which she presented to the committee Tuesday, requires a statement verifying that the victim consented to the petition for it to be filed this way. It also advanced to the House floor in a unanimous 17-0 vote.

Senate Bill 2277, which appeared before the Illinois Senate Criminal Law Committee on Tuesday, would also make civil no contact orders filed against those convicted of criminal sexual assault permanent instead of lasting two years. That measure was also passed committee unanimously.

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