Legislation to Modernize Indiana’s HIV Laws Approves House Committee

People living with HIV would no longer face harsher criminal penalties under legislation introduced by a House committee on Wednesday.

Doing your bodily fluids or excretions to someone—such as spitting on them—is a misdemeanor in Indiana. But laws passed decades ago said that if you know you have HIV, it becomes a criminal offense.

Carrie Foote said such laws reflect an outdated understanding of how HIV spreads.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 a very specific way: sexually or when you share intravenous drugs with someone.”

The measure, HB 1198, first eliminated harsher penalties for applying bodily fluid to a prison officer if you have HIV.

The national police union, represented by Ed Merchant, didn’t like it. He said police prefer the law as it is — even if officers aren’t at risk of contracting HIV from things like spit.

“This provides better cover for our officers,” Merchant said. “It punishes — it makes an offense for it.”

Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) tried a compromise – the bill now makes it a crime for a person with HIV to splatter blood on a public safety officer.

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

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

More importantly, said Dr. David Welsh, these criminal sanctions result in people avoiding even getting tested for HIV – if they don’t know they have the virus they can’t be charged.

Welsh represents the Indiana State Medical Association.

“Outdated laws can affect how we interact with our patients and cause patients to distrust their doctors,” Welsh said.

The law makes it a crime when a person with HIV fails to follow a treatment plan provided by a doctor and shares a needle or engages in sexual contact with someone else without telling them they have HIV.

The measure goes to the full house.

Contact Reporter Brandon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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