State Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, chair of the House Health and Human Services committee, on Feb. 25, 2020. She’s co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would lower criminal penalties for HIV-positive people who have sex, share needles or donate blood without making known their status. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia House passes update to state HIV laws

The Georgia House has passed a bill updating the state’s HIV laws for the first time since the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

House Bill 719 lowers or eliminates criminal penalties for having sex, sharing needles and donating blood without disclosing a positive HIV status. Having sex without telling a partner you’re HIV-positive is still a felony under the version of the bill passed Thursday, but the penalty is decreased from 10 years in prison to five. The bill also specifies that a person must have had the intent to infect their sexual partner with HIV to be prosecuted.

The legislation eliminates penalties for sharing needles and donating blood without disclosing a HIV-positive status. It also strikes HIV-specific penalties for assaulting officers. The existing laws regarding actions including spitting on officers are scientifically inaccurate, as HIV is not spread through saliva.

The bill passed with bipartisan support 124-40. Rep. Marc Morris, R-Cumming, questioned what the bill would accomplish by reducing the penalty for intentionally spreading HIV, saying he knew a young man who was intentionally, unknowingly infected by a partner. 

Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville,  said that eliminating and changing old HIV laws will help make more people comfortable with getting tested for the disease and disclosing their status.

“Criminalization laws make it harder for people to get tested, which can prevent reducing infection rates and ending the epidemic once and for all,” Park said. “It’s time to end the fear and stigma.”

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