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Virginia Could Be The First State In The South To Decriminalize HIV Transmission

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.”

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“These outdated, dangerous, and discriminatory laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other persons of color,” Vee Lamneck, the executive director of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.

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