U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, December 10, 2013
CONTACT: Ian Koski at 202-224-5042 

Senator Coons introduces bill to fight discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS

REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act would encourage states to repeal outdated laws

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation on Tuesday aimed at helping end the stigma, discrimination, and stereotypes that negatively impact Americans living with HIV/AIDS. The Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (“REPEAL”) HIV Discrimination Act would require an interagency review of federal and state laws that criminalize certain actions by people living with HIV.

“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,” Senator 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number of state and local criminal laws pertaining to individuals with HIV/AIDS are rooted not in science, but in outdated fear. They run counter to effective public health strategies, discourage HIV testing, and perpetuate unfair stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS – people who are our friends, family, and neighbors. Rather than recognizing that HIV/AIDS is a treatable medical condition, these laws perpetuate the idea that HIV is a deadly weapon and people with HIV/AIDS are dangerous criminals. Our laws need to catch up to our science, and this bill would take an important step in that direction.”

Thirty-two states have criminal statutes based on perceived exposure to HIV, regardless of the actual risk of transmission, and 13 states have laws that criminalize certain acts — like spitting — by people with HIV/AIDS, even though it is not possible to transmit HIV by saliva. Aside from being charged under HIV-specific criminalization statutes, people living with HIV have been charged under aggravated assault, attempted murder, and bioterrorism statutes. 

“The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act is a common-sense, no-cost measure that will help local states to save taxpayer dollars by ensuring that criminal laws relating to HIV exposure are based on the best and most recent science and knowledge about HIV, including the recent advances of effective HIV treatments,” William McColl, Political Director of AIDS United and co-chair of the Federal Working Group of the Positive Justice Project, said. 

“There is little doubt that current HIV-specific criminal laws do not reflect current knowledge about the actual routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission,” Catherine Hanssens, Executive Director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy and co-chair of the Federal Working Group of the Positive Justice Project, said.  I hope we can agree that something is terribly wrong when individuals serve less time for vehicular manslaughter and rape convictions than for consensual sex while HIV positive.  Our national Positive Justice Project coalition supports this opportunity to review the many HIV criminal laws that are an outdated waste of money when resources for survivors of real crimes such as sexual assault are so limited."

U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives in May. H.R. 1843 has 34 cosponsors. More than 150 HIV/AIDS, LGBT, military, public health, racial justice, religious, and women’s organizations have endorsed the legislation, including the Center for HIV Law and Policy, AIDS United, Sero Project, National Minority AIDS Council, American Civil Liberties Union, OutServe - Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Human Rights Campaign, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Black AIDS Institute, American Psychological Association, Lambda Legal, and National Council of Jewish Women.

Judiciary Committee
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