Measuring easing penalties for HIV exposure signed into law in Washington

Olympia

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday signed a measure that reduces the crime of intentionally exposing a sexual partner to HIV from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Under current law, a person can be charged with a felony for exposing or transmitting HIV to another person and could face as much as life in prison and a $50,000 fine, depending on the circumstances.

Under the new law, which takes effect mid-June, that crime becomes a misdemeanor that could carry a penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine if a person is infected. In cases where someone lies about their HIV status, it becomes a gross misdemeanor, with penalties of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. The felony charge is maintained for someone who intentionally transmits HIV to a child or vulnerable adult, and they are required to register as a sex offender.

Supporters of the change have said the current penalties don’t have an effect on reducing transmissions or improving public health. Opponents argued the move diminishes the significance of the impact on a person who is unknowingly infected.

The new law, which was requested by the state Department of Health, also allows for more intervention from local and state health officers, allowing them to recommend options ranging from testing to counseling. They could even mandate treatment for an individual determined to be placing others at risk.