First day of the 2020 session

The Capitol Building bustles with lawmakers and lobbyists on the first day of the 2020 legislative session in Atlanta on Jan. 13. 

ATLANTA — With bi-partisan support, lawmakers moved to change laws they say punish people living with HIV.

Critics of current state law view it as antiquated and harmful to a large swath of the population. 

2020欧冠名单The legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs, with the support of Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Alpharetta, chair of the Health and Human services committee.

2020欧冠名单The measure was introduced at the tail end of last year's legislative session and sailed through a House Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday with no debate.

2020欧冠名单Current law makes having sex or giving blood without disclosing HIV status a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Under the bill, it would only be illegal to knowingly transmit HIV.

Cooper said lawmakers have an updated knowledge of HIV prevention and treatment since many of the HIV criminal justice laws were passed in the 1980s.

“It is time for us to remove part of the stigma that keeps people that are HIV positive from getting treatment or even go to be identified,” she said. “Which then puts the rest of our population at risk for further infections.”

2020欧冠名单Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said that HIV law reform has a history of bipartisan support and attention from lawmakers after a 2017 study committee looked at the issue.

2020欧冠名单The House Study Committee on Georgians’ Barriers to Access to Adequate Health Care recommended eliminating “criminal exposure laws” except in situations where a person had intent to transmit HIV to another person.

“It has tended to be one of those issues here in Georgia that has bipartisan support across the board,” Graham said. "I hope that we can continue in that vein, because Georgia continues to be the epicenter of the HIV epidemic here in the United States.”

HIV rates in Georgia are extremely high, specifically among minority communities. The state ranks the highest in new diagnosis in the U.S. and third highest for HIV risk, .

Nina Martinez was the first HIV positive person in the U.S.. to donate a kidney to another person with HIV. Martinez said that there is a stigma surrounding HIV that prevents the high rates from improving.

2020欧冠名单“People living with HIV are just thought by default that they have malicious intent, that they're monsters, that they're going around and spreading HIV,” she told CNHI. “When in fact, most of us just want to live a good life.”

2020欧冠名单Martinez testified in front of the committee saying it’s even dangerous for someone with HIV to disclose their status.

“Compelling somebody to disclose puts them at risk for harm or even death,” she said. “People have been killed for disclosing, so while the morally right thing to do is to disclose, lack of disclosure is not equivalent to criminal intent.”

2020欧冠名单Cooper pointed out that medical treatment and prevention for HIV have come a long way.

A new medicine — post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP — can prevent HIV infection if a person is exposed, she told the committee.

Last year in President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union address, he announced a $13.5 million initiative to accelerate state and county efforts to end the HIV epidemic. Four Georgia counties were awarded nearly half a million in funds — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

2020欧冠名单Graham said that has had a hand in a push for reforming HIV laws and examining what policy changes need to be implemented to best utilize the additional resources for care and prevention.

2020欧冠名单“After four decades of having this law, if it was intended to prevent transmission, it's not doing a great job,” Martinez said. “Because Georgia remains an epicenter of the epidemic in America.”

The bill is on it’s way to the rules committee where lawmakers will decide if it will go to a full vote on the floor.