A bill which would increase the penalties for knowingly exposing a person to HIV passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee of the Utah Legislature this morning. The bill, S.B. 155 “Enhanced Penalties for HIV Positive Offender Amendments,” is sponsored by state Sen. Jerry W. Stevenson, R-Davis County.
The bill eases prosecution requirements to enhance a class A misdemeanor charge for prostitution, patronizing a prostitute or sexual solicitation to a third-degree felony if the person charged is HIV-positive.
Stevenson said in introducing the bill to the committee that its intent is to “enhance the prosecution for those that are carrying HIV and enhances it or takes it from being a misdemeanor to a felony for those that are intentionally spreading this disease.”
Current law, according to Layton City Prosecutor Steve Garside, requires a positive HIV test result be delivered to a sex worker or someone soliciting a sex worker by an officer of the law and a representative of the Utah State Health Department.
“It’s quite cumbersome and an elaborate process,” Garside said. “This [bill] will change that elaborate process to one where if the person knew or should have known, after having been tested for the HIV virus and being positive for that … [charges against the person] can be enhanced to a third degree felony, instead of going through a closed court hearing.”
“It just gives us more flexibility in going after people intentionally spreading the HIV virus through prostitution activities,” Garside said.
Stevensen said the bill was borne from a case where a male prostitute “was actually bragging about the fact that he was HIV-positive and [police] couldn’t move through the process to get him off the street fast enough.”
The bill strikes language in current law requiring notification of HIV test results by both a law officer and a representative of the Utah Department of Health in a counseling session and allows an HIV result to be given by simply an officer of the law.
Longtime HIV-AIDS lobbyist David Nelson is concerned about two provisions in the bill.
The bill allows police departments and city prosecutor offices to have records of an individual’s HIV status.
“The bill adds a provision that would circumvent federal health-information privacy laws by authorizing the receipt and maintenance of information by agencies which aren’t required to comply with the laws,” he said.
Nelson says the bill would also violate the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by requiring the self-incriminating “signature of the HIV positive individual, indicating receipt of the notice” during the prosecution of related criminal offenses.
“As usual for legislation of this kind, the bill would harm responsible public-health management by increasing the prosecution of people who need medical assistance,” said Nelson. “Current state laws already punish individuals who knowingly infect others, but the bill goes so far as to coerce an individual into waiving his 5th Amendment rights.”
All committee members present voted in favor of passing the bill to the Senate floor, including committee chair Sen. Chris Buttars. The committee also voted to move the bill to the Senate’s consent calendar.