Governor Signs Bill Modernizing California’s HIV Laws

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bill by Assemblymember Gloria, Senator Wiener to Change Unfair HIV Criminalization Laws Signed by Governor Brown

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law landmark legislation by California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and California State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that reforms outdated state law which unfairly criminalized and stigmatized people living with HIV.

State law will no longer discourage Californians from getting tested for HIV,” said Assemblymember Todd 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 of a national movement to reform these discriminatory laws.” 

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 Scott 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."

SB 239, authored by Assemblymember Gloria and Senator Wiener, 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” plan to reduce HIV transmission.

In the late 1980s and ‘90s at the height of the HIV epidemic, lawmakers passed several laws that criminalized otherwise legal behaviors of people living with HIV or 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. And HIV-negative individuals can 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, the 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.”

SB 239 was co-sponsored by Equality California, the ACLU of California, APLA Health, Black AIDS Institute, Lambda Legal, and Positive Women’s Network – USA. The organizations are all part of Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR) – a broad coalition of people living with HIV, HIV service providers, civil rights organizations, and public health professionals dedicated to ending the criminalization of people living with HIV in California.

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).