DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - HIV-positive people who have sex without disclosing their status would face reduced penalties, similar to those for transmitting other communicable diseases, under a proposal advanced Tuesday in the Iowa Senate.
The bill introduced by Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, would allow people who intentionally transmit the virus to their partner to be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. That's more in line with punishments for transmitting other diseases, such as Hepatitis C.
Under current law, people with HIV can face up to a 25-year prison sentence even if they didn't intend to infect someone or if their partner isn't infected. A conviction also can land the person on a sex offender registry for life.
McCoy has introduced versions of the bill in past years but this is the first time it's made it to the floor.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, voted to move the measure out of committee, saying it is wrong to single out those with HIV.
"I think it's entirely appropriate to treat all diseases of a similar nature, chronic incurable diseases, in the same fashion and the penalties of the current law are Draconian, to say the least," he said.
Despite supporting the bill, Quirmbach said he agreed with concerns raised by two Republicans, Sens. Kent Sorenson of Milo and Sen. Jack Whitver of Ankeny. They said they opposed the measure because unlike the current law, it doesn't require infected people to tell a partner of their illness.
The Legislature unanimously approved the current law in 1998. The law was approved, in part, as a reaction to a 1996 case in New York where a man intentionally infected 13 women and girls with HIV.
Iowa is one of 34 states that criminalized HIV transmission.
Since the Legislature approved the Iowa law, 25 people have been convicted, though only two of those infected partners with HIV. Twelve people remain in prison and a trial for one person is pending.
In 2010, President Barack Obama released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which encouraged states to update their transmission laws to ensure they support public health initiatives to prevent HIV.
Randy Mayer, chief of the bureau of HIV, STD and Hepatitis at the Iowa Department of Public Health, told a judiciary subcommittee last week that the legislation will help reduce stigma surrounding the disease and build trust with HIV-positive people.
Attorney General Tom Miller supports the bill, said his chief of staff, Eric Tabor.
Tabor said Miller is "firmly convinced the statue needs to be changed" while still providing avenues to criminalize dangerous behavior.