State leaders review Louisiana’s HIV criminalization law

State leaders are taking a closer look at whether a state law involving HIV needs revision.
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 6:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2023 at 6:55 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - State leaders are taking a closer look at whether a state law involving HIV needs revision. A task force at the Capitol met Friday to look at alternatives and get feedback. To try and prevent HIV infected people from intentionally exposing others to the virus, Louisiana’s HIV Criminalization Law comes with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and 15 years on the sex offender registry. It became law back in the 1980′s and some say it has resulted in false convictions.

“So, they’re on the sex offender registry for spitting on someone,” said Morgan Lamandre with STAR.

Opponents say because of those false accusations and convictions it discourages HIV testing. Also noting the virus no longer means the end of someone’s life and there are medications available to avoid transmission if you’re already infected.

“We have a lot better medicines now. Easier to tolerate, some of them you don’t even have to take every day, some of them are like an IV you can take every other month so lots of progress has been made,” said Dr. Lynn Besch who gave a presentation to the task force.

But those on the flip side of the argument say it protects them from those who put others at risk of infection. Health professionals on the task force worry the law makes people afraid to find out if they’re infected resulting in fewer getting tested. State records show between 2011 and 2022 over 150 people were arrested for violating Louisiana’s HIV law. The vast majority of them being black men. Some in the room say we need to break the stigma from the public that comes with having HIV.

“And humanizing the fact that I’m living with HIV and I’m not an infected person...we need to change the language...that’s part of the fear,” said Dr. Joyce Turner Keller.

Democratic Rep. Aimee Freeman, whose resolution created the task force, says any change would simply be an update to a law that is based on outdated information and science. Only time will tell if the task force results in any legislation. And if so - will the new legislature be open to a change in the law. The group is tasked with presenting a detailed report to the legislature before the next regular session.

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