Lawmakers, long-term HIV survivors push to rewrite Missouri’s HIV laws

(Jefferson City, MO)….. Missouri lawmakers, health professionals and long-term HIV survivors are calling for the state legislature to change Missouri’s HIV criminalization laws which they believe are outdated and medically inaccurate. 

On March 3, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on House Bill (HB) 1691 to address the state’s criminal codes dealing with the prosecution of people living with HIV. 

Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who sponsored the bill, said current HIV-specific criminal statutes discourage people from getting tested. She also said it increases the stigma of the virus by reinforcing inaccurate beliefs about how it is transmitted. 

Missouri’s current law allows prosecutors to charge an HIV-positive person with a felony based on whether she or he can prove they disclosed their HIV status to their sexual partner. Rep. Rehder’s bill would change the grounds for prosecution to intent to transmit, rather than disclosure. Disclosure is very difficult to prove, and such laws have not been proven effective at reducing transmission of the virus. HB 1691 would also make it possible for an HIV-positive person to donate an organ to another person living with HIV, as is legal in many states.

The Missouri HIV Justice Coalition, Empower Missouri, not-for-profits focusing on health care and better public policy, and long-term HIV survivors supported the bill during the public hearing. 

HIV-survivor LaTrischa Miles of Kansas City argued in her testimony that current HIV transmission laws harm communities and reinforce stereotypes that people living with the disease are dangerous, predatory or deviant. 

“I’ve lived with HIV almost 25 years under the guidelines of these antiquated MO HIV Criminalization laws that don’t support science and stare me in the face every time I step to the starting line; I am a runner. Runners spit, but spit does not transmit HIV,” she said. 

Miles also talked about the advancements in science and medicine, which she said has significantly helped to reduce HIV transmission rates. 

“In Missouri, we appear to be stuck in a law from the 1980’s when little was known about HIV. Today, we have an arsenal of defense; if you are HIV-positive and undetectable, the virus is untransmittable,” Miles added. 

Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri, said, “We are thankful that committee members showed such enthusiasm for the proposed legislation and hope it moves forward for debate by the full House of Representatives swiftly. It is time to end the stigma and change the law.”

In 2018, Missouri had roughly 13,000 people living with HIV, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Empower Missouri staffs the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition and welcomes participation by people living with HIV. Details may be found at: https://empowermissouri.org/hiv-justice-coalition/.

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Note: Upon request, Empower Missouri can connect members of the media to persons living with HIV to be interviewed regarding House Bill 1691. A digital version of this press release is available at this link

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