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Legislation to modernize Indiana's HIV laws clears House committee

Alan Mbathi
/
IPB News
Carrie Foote leads Indiana's HIV Modernization Movement. She was diagnosed with HIV in 1988.

People with HIV would no longer be subject to harsher criminal penalties under legislation that advanced out of a House committee Wednesday.

If you put your bodily fluid or waste on someone – like, say, spitting on them – it’s a misdemeanor in Indiana. But laws passed decades ago said that if you know you have HIV, it becomes a felony.

Carrie Foote said such laws reflect an outdated understanding of how HIV spreads. Foote, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, leads the state’s HIV Modernization Movement.

“HIV is not transmitted that way," Foote said. "HIV is transmitted in very specific ways: sexually or if you share intravenous drugs with somebody.”

The measure, HB 1198, initially got rid of harsher penalties for putting bodily fluid on a law enforcement officer when you have HIV.

The statewide police union, represented by Ed Merchant, didn’t like that. He said police prefer the law the way it is – even if officers aren’t at risk from contracting HIV from things like spit.

“This provides our officers with better cover," Merchant said. "It penalizes – it makes a felony for doing that.”

Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) attempted a compromise – the bill now leaves in a felony if a person with HIV puts blood on a public safety official.

READ MORE: Advocates say reforming HIV laws will help destigmatize disease, improve public health

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues throughout the legislative session. And follow along with our bill tracker.

Other parts of the bill completely eliminate criminal penalties for donating blood or semen when you know you have HIV. Advocates said testing has eliminated the risks of such donations – and people with HIV can even be organ donors now.

More importantly, Dr. David Welsh said, those criminal penalties cause people to avoid getting tested for HIV in the first place – if they don't know they have the virus, they can't get charged.

Welsh represents the Indiana State Medical Association.

"Outdated laws can interfere with how we interact with our patients and can cause patients to distrust their physicians," Welsh said.

The bill does make it a felony if a person with HIV isn't following a treatment plan provided by a doctor and shares a needle or makes sexual contact with someone else without telling them they have HIV.

The measure is headed to the full House.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.
Copyright 2023 IPB News.

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