California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 239 — a measure that modernizes several provisions of California’s criminal code targeting people living with HIV.
SB 239 is designed to reform various severely outdated HIV criminalization laws that when enacted solely relied on old science and stigma against people living with HIV. Since the laws were enacted, however, there has been significant scientific advances in HIV prevention, care, and treatment. SB 239 helps California’s law reflect the current landscape by bringing it in line with current science.
SB 239 leaves HIV criminalization laws in place but lowers the penalties for the spread of HIV so they are in line with those of other communicable diseases. Health officers have the authority to issue orders of isolation and quarantine for anyone who poses a threat to public health, whether through bad intentions or through negligence.
More than 30 states have laws in place that have been used to prosecute people living with HIV. People living with HIV can be tried and imprisoned simply because a partner accuses them of hiding their HIV status. There is no evidence that laws criminalizing HIV and targeting people living with HIV reduce the spread of HIV. Rather, such laws deter individuals from getting tested out of fear that if they know their HIV status, they could be charged under one of the several current provisions. Moreover, these laws only reinforce stigma about knowing one’s status or even seeking testing.
“This important measure modernizes California’s HIV laws in response to clear and compelling evidence from public health science,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “Outdated HIV criminalization laws harm our efforts to achieve an AIDS-free generation by reinforcing stigma and discouraging people from getting tested out of fear that if they know their status, they may be accused of wrongdoing. We applaud Governor Jerry Brown for signing this measure into law.”