Bills propose changes to current Missouri HIV criminal laws

JOPLIN, Mo. – Two bills aim to change current Missouri HIV criminal laws.

Currently, people living with HIV (PLHIV) must disclose their HIV status to sexual partners, and condom use is not a defense (Missouri Rev. Stat. §191.6771). A person can be charged with a felony and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, or up to 30 years if HIV is transmitted.

The two proposals were filed by State Representatives Holly Rehder (R) and Tracy McCeery (D). Lawmakers want the laws to reflect the advances in medicine and knowledge of the disease.

HB 166 (McCreery) proposes downgrading the penalty levels from a felony to a misdemeanor whether or not HIV is transmitted.

HB 167 (Rehder) would lessen felony penalties for cases in which HIV was transmitted, but lessen it to a misdemeanor if HIV was not transmitted.

Read a side-by-side comparison of the bill here.

Empower Missouri, an advocacy group, stated in a release, “Treating HIV as a crime increases the stigma that has been present since the late 1980’s when HIV and AIDS were not yet understood medically and death was seen as inevitable for those who were diagnosed. The stigma of the illness leads many to delay or avoid being tested, increasing transmission of the illness and deaths.”

Members of Empower Missouri worry that the stigma of treating HIV “as a crime is holding people back from getting tested, increases transmission of the illness and deaths.”

Some advocates for change also point out that proof of disclosure can also be tricky to prove in court.