REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act would encourage states to repeal outdated laws

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee,Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation aimed at helping end 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 with a 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number of state and local criminal laws pertaining to individuals with HIV/AIDS are rooted not in science, but in outdated fear.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 members, 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 our morals, and this bill would take an important step in that direction.” 

“As we treat those living with HIV/AIDS, our laws should treat them equally,” said Senator Markey.  “We should not have policies or laws on the books that discriminate, perpetrate stereotypes or aren’t based in sound science. The REPEAL Act will help ensure that individuals with HIV/AIDS are not criminalized for having a treatable medical condition, and that all Americans are subject to the same set of laws. I thank Senator Coons and Baldwin for their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with all of my colleagues to pass this important legislation.” 

“Despite great advances in treatment, education and awareness, those living with HIV and AIDS still face stigma and discrimination,” said Senator Baldwin.  “Today, on World AIDS Day, I am proud to join Senators Coons and Markey in introducing this important legislation to ensure that federal and state criminal laws are grounded in sound medical science and do not place an undue burden on individuals with HIV and AIDS.  It is critical that we continue to fight the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and break down barriers to accessing testing, support and treatment.”

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,” said William McColl, Director of Health Policy at AIDS United.

U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the legislation in the House of Representatives in March. H.R. 1586 has seven 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.