Dem looks to end discriminatory AIDS laws

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Tuesday that he would soon introduce legislation requiring the federal government to review federal and state laws, and recommend ways to make them more fair for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Coons said he would introduce his bill, the Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (REPEAL) HIV Discrimination Act, when the Senate returns in December.

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According to Coons, 32 states have put in place criminal laws based on "perceived exposure" to HIV, and 13 states have criminalized certain acts, such as spitting by people with HIV/AIDS. He said those laws are based on misconceptions about how the disease spreads and need to be repealed to keep people with the disease from being charged with assault or bioterrorism laws.

"It's simply not fair that someone having been diagnosed with a chronic, treatable medical condition should automatically be subjected to a different set of criminal laws," Coons said.

"A disturbing number of state and local criminal laws pertaining to individuals with HIV/AIDS are rooted not in science, but in outdated fear. Rather than recognizing that HIV/AIDS is a treatable medical condition, these laws perpetuate the idea that HIV is a deadly weapon and people with HIV/AIDS are dangerous criminals."

Catherine Hanssens, executive director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, supports the bill and said many current laws "do not reflect current knowledge about the actual routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission."

Coons's bill will be a companion to H.R. 1843, which Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) proposed back in May.