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Bill seeks felony charge for intentionally exposing others to HIV, STDs

Rep. Lela Alston, shown in this 2011 file photo, has introduced a bill that would make it a felony to intentionally expose others to HIV and eight types of sexually transmitted diseases. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Ashley Slaney)

Rep. Lela Alston, shown in this 2011 file photo, has introduced a bill that would make it a felony to intentionally expose others to HIV and eight types of sexually transmitted diseases. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Ashley Slaney)

A House Democrat wants to make it a felony to intentionally expose others to sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis.

“If you know you’re infectious, you should not be spreading that around no matter what the motivation is,” said Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix.

Alston said she authored HB 2218 after hearing about a woman in her district who contracted an STD from a man who failed to tell her that he was infected.

The bill would make it a Class 6 felony for a person who knows he or she is infected with HIV or one of eight listed STDs to intentionally expose others.

As defined by the bill, exposure would include sexual intercourse or sodomy, selling or donating one’s own tissue, organs or bodily fluids, and sharing hypodermic needles or syringes.

The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee but had yet to be scheduled for a hearing as of Thursday.

Alston said what her constituent experienced when her partner failed to disclose his infection constitutes criminal intent.

“This guy didn’t tell her he was infected so that she could protect herself,” she said.

Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, who signed on as a primary sponsor, said it’s important for the bill to address a range of situations.

“If we’re doing it for something, we might as well cover other things that are not yet protected or that we’re not holding people accountable (for) when they’re passing on these diseases in other ways other than sexual intimacy,” she said.

Anthony Paik, an associate professor of sociology and gender, women’s and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa, said that it’s difficult to tell how common it is for people to intentionally expose others to HIV or STDs.

“I don’t know of any research that actually looks at that question,” he said. “I’ve heard sort of anecdotal accounts on fairly rare occasions.”

Adina Nack, a senior research fellow for the Council on Contemporary Families, said the bill could actually be “potentially quite dangerous” owing to what she interprets as an emphasis on knowledge of being infected.

“Legislation like this could unintentionally discourage people from getting tested and treated and diagnosed,” she said.

Veda Collmer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Visiting Attorney at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said there was a trend in the late 1980s and early ’90s to criminalize this kind of behavior. Laws that were passed have nearly all been repealed, she said.

“They’re very difficult to prosecute,” said Collmer, who is with the college’s Public Health Law and Policy Program. “It would be hard to meet the burden of proof.”

Alston said she is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for her bill.

“I would hope that reasonable people would think that this is an important issue,” she said. “It’s a public health issue and very devastating to the individuals who are involved.”

Covered by HB 2218

• Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

• Chancroid

• Chlamydia

• Genital herpes

• Gonorrhea

• Granuloma inguinale

• Lymphogranuloma venereum

• Syphilis

• Trichomonas

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