A group of Missouri lawmakers are looking to change a current state law about HIV they claim hasn’t been updated since its implementation in the 1980s.
According to Republican Rep. Holly Rehder of Sikeston, the laws currently enforced do not encourage people to get tested. She said if a person knowingly exposes someone to HIV and they test positive for it, they could be charged with a class A felony, which is akin to murder, forcible kidnapping and rape.
Rehder said if a person doesn’t know they are HIV-positive, then the state of Missouri cannot charge them with a class A felony. She said people who don’t know and do spread it don’t have to worry about this charge, which is hindering people from seeking any STD tests.
Driving while under the influence and killing someone is deemed a class C felony, which is what Rehder hopes to reduce the knowingly HIV exposure charge down to. The bill would also decrease the penalty of exposing someone to the virus knowingly but does not contract the disease. It would bring the charge down to a class D felony from a class B felony.
Democrat Rep. Tracy McCreery of St. Louis filed another bill that would eliminate the felony charges and decrease the transmission offenses to misdemeanors.
She said, using information from experts, this would bring HIV in line with other disease transmissions.
Empower Missouri Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford said the state would get out of the area of intent completely. She said, as the current law reads, using a condom is not a viable defense. Oxford said the state could charge a person even if they were trying not to transmit the disease.
The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services said there are around 13,000 people who have HIV, with the state being one of seven in the nation to experience a rural HIV epidemic. With proper treatment, however, HIV individuals can suppress the virus that eventually leads to AIDS. It will also help in decreasing the transmission rate.
Rehder said HIV is not a death sentence anymore as it was initially.
Both McCreery and Rehder’s bill has been filed already, but its full language has yet to be disclosed. Democrat Sen. Shalonn “Kiki” Curls will file legislation similar to the House’s in the near future.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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