California Governor Signs Bill Modernizing State’s HIV Laws

October 6, 2017


CONTACT: Naina Khanna, naina.khanna.work@gmail.com, 510.681.1169
or Jennie Smith-Camejo, jsmithcamejo@pwn-usa.org, 347.553.5174

Sacramento, Calif.— Governor Jerry Brown today signed into law landmark legislation to reform outdated laws that unfairly criminalized and stigmatized people living with HIV. Senate Bill (SB) 239 was authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Asm. Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and cosponsored by Equality California, the ACLU of California, APLA Health, Black AIDS Institute, Lambda Legal and Positive Women’s Network – USA. These organizations are part of Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR), a broad coalition of people living with HIV, HIV and health service providers, civil rights organizations and public health professionals dedicated to ending the criminalization of people living with HIV in California.

“Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” said Senator Wiener. “HIV should be treated like all other serious infectious diseases, and that’s what SB 239 does. We are going to end new HIV infections, and we will do so not by threatening people with state prison time, but rather by getting people to test and providing them access to care. I want to thank Governor Brown for his support in helping to put California at the forefront of a national movement to reform these discriminatory laws.”

“State law will no longer discourage Californians from getting tested for HIV,” said Asm. Gloria. “With the Governor’s signature today, we are helping to reduce the stigma that keeps some from learning their HIV status and getting into treatment to improve their health, extend their lives, and prevent additional infections. I want to thank Governor Brown for signing SB 239. This action keeps California at the forefront in the fight to stop the spread of HIV.”

SB 239 updates California criminal law to approach transmission of HIV in the same way as transmission of other serious communicable diseases. It also brings California statutes up to date with the current understanding of HIV prevention, treatment and transmission. The bill fulfills a key goal of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and is consistent with guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and with California’s “Getting to Zero” HIV transmission reduction strategy.

“The passage of SB239 marks tremendous progress for Californians living with HIV. Laws that criminalize HIV positive status are not based on science–they are based solely on hysteria and fear–and essentially create an underclass of people diagnosed with a disease, placing us at risk for discrimination and even violence,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Positive Women’s Network, a national membership body of women living with HIV and a proud co-sponsor of SB 239. “Today, California has proved once again that is a national leader on protecting safety, dignity and human rights for all its residents.”

Beginning in the late 1980s and at the height of the HIV epidemic, lawmakers passed several laws criminalizing otherwise legal behaviors of people living with HIV and added HIV-related penalties to existing crimes. These laws were based on fear and the limited medical understanding of the time. When most of these laws were passed, there were no effective treatments for HIV and discrimination against people living with HIV was rampant. Research now demonstrates that people living with HIV on effective treatment cannot transmit the virus to their partners. HIV-negative individuals can now take medication, known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by up to 99 percent. SB 239 ensures that these advances inform our laws and the manner in which we address our public health response to HIV.

“With his signature, Governor Brown has moved California’s archaic HIV laws out of the 1980s and into the 21st century,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “SB 239 will do much to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV – it is not only fair, but it’s good public health. When people are no longer penalized for knowing their status, it encourages them to come forward, get tested and get treatment. That’s good for all Californians.”

In addition to the organizations sponsoring the bill, SB 239 was supported by CHCR members including the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project, the Transgender Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Free Speech Coalition and the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

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Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR) is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to ending the criminalization of HIV in California. Our mission is to mobilize a broad coalition, including individuals and communities who are disproportionately impacted by HIV, to replace fear-based, stigmatizing laws that criminalize HIV-status with evidence-based, nondiscriminatory laws that protect public health.

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