The Des Moines Register Editorial Board Calls for Repeal of “Bad HIV Law”

By Andrea Sears CHL&P
Iowa's HIV criminalization law has harmed the lives of innocent people.

Chip Baltimore.jpg

Rep. C. Baltimore
(Photo: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register) Iowa Representative Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, calls the existing state law “terrible”.

An editorial in the April 24, 2014 edition of the Des Moines Register calls on Iowa lawmakers to repeal a 1998 law making it a felony for people living with HIV (PLWH) to “intentionally” expose “the body of one person to a bodily fluid of another person in a manner that could result in the transmission” of HIV.

The law, passed in response to the Nushawn Williams case in New York State, threatens people living with HIV who intentionally expose a partner to their bodily fluids in a way that could transmit HIV with up to twenty-five years in prison.

The Register’s Editorial Board points out that the law, one of the harshest in the nation, has harmed the lives of innocent people who posed virtually no risk of transmitting HIV.

In February the Iowa State Senate passed a reform measure that would reduce the penalties for PLWH.  But the bill would also raise “intentional” exposure to other infectious diseases from a simple misdemeanor, punishable by no more than thirty days in jail and a fine, to a felony with a potential 25-year prison sentence for essentially the same conduct.

Interpretation and implementation of the law would leave people with all of these conditions at serious risk for unjust convictions. If the current felony statute targeting only PLWH had been applied fairly, many if not most of those charged to date would not have been convicted.  Under the Senate bill the same criminal justice system would be enforcing a law that would dramatically increase penalties for “intentional” transmission of hepatitis, TB, and meningococcal disease.

The Register urges lawmakers not to rush to pass new legislation on such a complex issue but to correct its mistake of sixteen years ago by repealing the current law.