FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 13, 2019
Contact: Conner Kerrigan, Communications Director
JEFFERSON CITY, MO…On December 11th, 2019, Representatives Holly Rehder (R – Sikeston) and Tracy McCreery (D – St. Louis) filed HBs 1691 & 1692, respectively. Both bills aim to modernize Missouri’s outdated and medically inaccurate criminal statutes concerning HIV.
Currently, Missouri and more than 30 other states have statutes establishing felony level penalties if an HIV-positive person cannot prove that they disclosed their HIV status before engaging in sexual activity. Criminal charges are possible, even if the HIV-positive person has a zero viral load and cannot transmit the virus or utilizes safe sex practices. Disclosure is very difficult to establish from a legal standpoint, often being simply one person’s word against another.
Treating HIV as a crime increases the stigma that has been present since the late 1980’s when HIV and AIDS were not yet understood medically and death was seen as inevitable for those who were diagnosed. The stigma of the illness leads many to delay or avoid being tested, increasing transmission of the illness and deaths.
Both bills, which are being filed for the third year in a row, would eliminate the HIV-specific language in the statutes, instead replacing it with a broader “communicable diseases” category. Sen. S. Kiki Curls will be filing similar legislation in the near future, making this the first year that the legislation has been present in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly.
Reps. Rehder and McCreery were joined by representatives from the MO HIV Justice Coalition, including Cale Mitchell, Executive Director of Spectrum Healthcare; David Dandridge, Administrative Assistant at Williams & Associates; Chloe Owens, Justice Organizer at Empower Missouri & staff lead for the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition; Mandy Hagseth, J.D., Policy & Advocacy Manager at Missouri Family Health Council, Inc.; Evonnia Woods, Education and Membership Committee Chair for the MO HIV Justice Coalition Member; and Jeanette Mott Oxford, Executive Director of Empower Missouri.
AIDS Project of the Ozarks, KC Care Health Center, Missouri Health Care for All, SAVE, Inc., Vivent Health, Dr. Fred Rottnek, Dr. Rupa Patel, and Dr. Ernie-Paul Barretteall submitted statements in support of this legislation. They may be found in a digital press packet at this link.
Empower Missouri (www.EmpowerMissouri.org) is a statewide not-for-profit advocating for the well-being of Missourians through civic leadership, education, and research. Founded as the Missouri Conference on Charities and Corrections in 1901, Empower Missouri has operated under four names in its 118-year history, but always with a focus on access to basic human needs and basic fairness.