Legislature rewrites HIV bill

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MAY 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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A law based on old science was revamped at the end of this legislative session to be more representative of new science.

“We see situations where science has advanced enough that it makes old laws outdated and draconian,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone. “We are obligated as officials [to change it].”

The HIV law in Iowa was altered Thursday to more closely match the times, Baltimore said. The bill passed the House unanimously, 98-0.

HIV-positive people convicted under the old law could face 20 years in prison if they knowingly infected someone with HIV.

“Fast forward to today; we’ve made huge strides in the treatment and diagnoses and life span in people with HIV, and the science is much, much better,” Baltimore said. “This bill is an effort to modernize the law based on the science we have developed in the HIV area.”

The law now includes protection of HIV, and also tuberculosis, hepatitis, and meningitis. It also adjusts the prison sentence for infecting someone else. If the person who was exposed contracts the disease, it is a five-year sentence. If the person does not contract the disease, it is considered a serious misdemeanor.

Rep. Curtis Hanson, D-Fairfield, said the new law comes after a long history of issues.

“I am interested in not criminalizing or stigmatizing people who should not be criminalized,” he said. “In the early days, the adopters had very draconian policies out of ignorance.”

Hanson said he hopes the people act favorably toward the bill because he thinks it is a step toward progress.

“I hope the [people] are knowledgeable of the scientific efforts that are now available to them, and I hope they’re cognitive of the … law,” he said. “We always have to be aware of what is going on scientifically, and people need to acknowledge it.”

Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, said she has not had the chance to converse with many citizens, but she hopes they understand the significance of the change.

“I hate to guess, but I think a lot of Iowans will feel comfortable that we’re taking steps, and that being healthy and getting tested is a good thing,” she said. “Testing is always very important because we want to make sure all Iowans are healthy, so from that standpoint, it’s a very good thing, and when we voted on that it was a long time coming.”

Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, also supported the bill.

“I think most people, when they look at the state of technology and the advancement of the drugs that are used to combat not just HIV but other communicable diseases, they would understand,” he said. “Now that we have the technology that we do … we’re just bringing the law up to speed and up to date where we are technologically.”

Baltimore said he views the HIV bill similarly to the medical-marijuana bill.

However, whereas he did not feel the cannabidiol bill had enough hard evidence to back it, he was confident in the changes to the HIV legislation.

“I base them both on science,” he said. “The progress and advancements in science told me it’s time to update HIV law.”

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