Missouri lawmakers fighting to change HIV laws, want to reduce penalties

Lawmakers are worried the current law incentive's people to not get tested.

Missouri’s HIV laws were written in the 1980’s during a time where there was an HIV/Aids epidemic. Although there is still a prevalent amount of HIV today, it is not considered a death sentence any longer.

But currently Missouri HIV law states there are felony penalties, Class A or B felony if an HIV positive person does not disclose their HIV status before engaging in sexual activity and if transmission occurs.
Felony penalties also go for donating blood, organs, semen or tissue, or through contact of certain fluids, biting or sharing of needles.

“The state would simply have to show there was a good reason for them to believe they might have been exposed in order to show an intent to violate the law, the other aspect is there’s no necessity that you’ve actually transmitted the disease to anyone, it’s punishable if you’ve engaged in conduct, even protected sex is prohibited under the statute” said Joplin Criminal Defense Attorney, Bill Fleischaker.

State Representatives, Holly Rehder and Tracy McCreery want to lessen the criminal penalties. They have filed bills, HB 166 and HB 167 that would alter the language of the current law.  Rehder’s bill proposed less harsh penalties but keeps felony punishments for ‘knowing exposure’ even when there is no transmission. McCreery’s bill proposes lessening the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor.

There is a side by side comparison of Rehder and McCreery’s bills which you can find here.

Fleischaker agrees it’s time to update the laws.

“In the long run it will improve the healthcare situation, because you do have people who simply don’t get tested for HIV because they don’t want to know, and they don’t want to know because if they engaged in unprotected sex or sexual activity at all they can say ‘oh I didn’t know I had HIV and therefore I didn’t violate the law’.”

Lawmakers are worried the current law incentive’s people to not get tested.

Dr. Uwe Schmidt with Freeman Hospital does not think the change will increase testing.

“I’m not really sure how much people are discouraged about getting tested just because of that law, I think the majority of those people don’t think that far ahead.”

According to the Missouri Dept. of Health and Senior Services, in 2018, more than 13,000 people were living with HIV in Missouri.

In 2016, in Jasper County, 169 out of every 100,000 people were living with HIV, according to aidsvu.org.

The virus is not considered a death sentence any longer, but it’s still important to get tested.

“It’s very important number 1 if they are infected they spread the virus unnecessarily and secondly there’s very effective treatment available” added Dr. Schmidt.

Both bills have been filed and a second hearing for each was held today, January 9th 2020.

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