Senator Coons to Introduce Bill to Combat Discrimination Against Those Living With HIV

U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will introduce legislation aimed at helping to end the stigma and discrimination that negatively impact Americans living with HIV. The Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (“REPEAL”) HIV Discrimination Act, which would require an interagency review of federal and state laws that criminalize certain actions by people living with HIV, will be introduced when the Senate reconvenes in December 2013.

The bill addresses the serious problem of discrimination in the use of criminal and civil commitment laws against those who test positive for HIV. This bill also creates incentives and support for states to reform existing policies that use the criminal law to target people living with HIV for felony charges and severe punishments for behavior that is otherwise legal or that poses no measurable risk of HIV transmission.

The Hill explained that Sen. Coons' bill will be a companion to H.R. 1843, which U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) proposed in the House of Representatives in May 2013. Currently, H.R. 1843 has 34 cosponsors, and has been endorsed by more than 150 HIV, LGBT, military, public health, racial justice, religious, and women’s organizations, including The Center for HIV Law and Policy, AIDS United, Sero Project, National Minority AIDS Council, American Civil Liberties Union, OutServe - Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Human Rights Campaign, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Black AIDS Institute, American Psychological Association, Lambda Legal, and National Council of Jewish Women.

As CHLP Executive Director, Catherine Hanssens, noted in Sen. Coons' announcement: “There is little doubt that current HIV-specific criminal laws do not reflect current knowledge about the actual routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission. I hope we can agree that something is terribly wrong when individuals serve less time for vehicular manslaughter and rape convictions than for consensual sex while HIV positive.  Our national Positive Justice Project coalition supports this opportunity to review the many HIV criminal laws that are an outdated waste of money when resources for survivors of real crimes such as sexual assault are so limited."