Bill reviews discriminatory laws against those with HIV

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would force the federal government to review laws that criminalize certain actions by people living with HIV, such as spitting.

“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number of state and local criminal laws pertaining to individuals with HIV/AIDS are rooted not in science, but in outdated fear.”

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Coons pointed out that 32 states have criminal statutes based on perceived exposure to HIV, regardless of the actual risk of transmission. He said 13 states have laws that criminalize certain acts — such as spitting — by people with HIV/AIDS, even though it is not possible to transmit HIV by saliva. 

The Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (REPEAL) HIV Discrimination Act, S. 1790, would require an interagency review of federal and state laws that criminalize certain actions by people living with HIV.

“Our laws need to catch up to our science, and this bill would take an important step in that direction,” Coons said.

Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) have a companion measure in the House, H.R. 1843.