The Iowa House unanimously passed what advocates say is "a historic bill" early Thursday morning that would make major reforms to the state's law criminalizing the transmission of HIV, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. Terry Branstad.
Senate File 2297 would rewrite Iowa's current HIV transmission law, 709c, to include additional infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, meningitis, and hepatitis, and would change criminal sentencing into a tiered system instead of the "one size fits all" approach of the current law, according to One Iowa, an LGBT rights group.
Under Iowa's current law, a person could be prosecuted with criminal felony charges if they knowingly expose someone to HIV without disclosing their status — regardless of whether infection occurs.
Under the proposed law, transmitting the diseases could result in various misdemeanor or felony charges based on whether a person intentionally passes the infection to another person, or transmits the disease with "reckless disregard," or transmits the disease without informing the other person of their status, reports The Des Moines Register. If a person purposely transmits the disease to another person, they could face a class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
The bill would also end the requirement that those sentenced under the law register as a sex offender, and retroactively removes those previously convicted from the sex offender registry, said Smith.
Gov. Branstad, a Republican, "will carefully review the bill upon receiving it in its final form," and has 30 days to act on the measure after the end of the legislative session, Jimmy Centers, a Branstad spokesperson, told BuzzFeed. Advocates at One Iowa would be surprised if the governor does not the sign the bill considering the unanimous bipartisan support it received in the legislature, according to Matthew Smith, the director of communications at One Iowa.
"After 5 long years of fighting to change Iowa's law, those of us living in Iowa with HIV and AIDS can finally breathe a sigh of relief," said Tami Haught, community organizer at Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network (CHAIN), in a statement. "We commend the leadership in the Senate and the House for understanding the importance of this bill and the need to modernize Iowa's draconian 709c law."
While advocates applauded the reform bill's quick passage, they contend more work needs to be done in the state and on the national level.
"We must continue our outreach and education within the public sphere about the realties of those living with HIV, to dispel the harmful stereotypes, stigma and misinformation often associated with the disease," Haught said. "Our hope is that by beginning to modernize the laws in Iowa, it will signal other states with similar legislation to do the same. HIV is not a crime; our laws here in Iowa and across the country need to reflect this fact."
According to the bill's language, the reforms would take effect upon enactment. The bill also passed unanimously in the Senate on Feb. 27.