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Media Contact:
Alex Medina
Director of Communications
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amedina@apla.org
October 6, 2017

Governor Signs Bill Modernizing California HIV Laws

Sacramento, Calif.— Governor Jerry Brown today signed into law landmark legislation to reform outdated laws that unfairly criminalized and stigmatized people living with HIV. Senate Bill (SB) 239 was authored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Asm. Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and cosponsored by APLA Health, Equality California, ACLU of California, Black AIDS Institute, Lambda Legal and Positive Women’s Network – USA. These organizations are part of Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR), a broad coalition of people living with HIV, HIV and health service providers, civil rights organizations and public health professionals dedicated to ending the unfair criminalization of people living with HIV in California.

“Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” said Senator Wiener. “HIV should be treated like all other serious infectious diseases, and that’s what SB 239 does. We are going to end new HIV infections, and we will do so not by threatening people with state prison time, but rather by getting people to test and providing them access to care. I want to thank Governor Brown for his support in helping to put California at the forefront of a national movement to reform these discriminatory laws.”

“State law will no longer discourage Californians from getting tested for HIV,” said Asm. Gloria. “With the Governor’s signature today, we are helping to reduce the stigma that keeps some from learning their HIV status and getting into treatment to improve their health, extend their lives, and prevent additional infections. I want to thank Governor Brown for signing SB 239. This action keeps California at the forefront in the fight to stop the spread of HIV.”

SB 239 updates California criminal law to approach transmission of HIV in the same way as transmission of other serious communicable diseases. It also brings California statutes up to date with the current understanding of HIV prevention, treatment and transmission. The bill fulfills a key goal of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and is consistent with guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and with California’s “Getting to Zero” new HIV infections strategy.

Beginning in the late 1980s and at the height of the HIV epidemic, lawmakers passed several laws criminalizing otherwise legal behaviors of people living with HIV and adding HIV-related penalties to existing crimes. These laws were based on fear and the limited medical understanding of the time. When most of these laws were passed, there were no effective treatments for HIV and discrimination against people living with HIV was rampant. Research now demonstrates that people living with HIV on effective treatment cannot transmit the virus to their partners. HIV-negative individuals can now take medication, known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV by up to 99 percent. SB 239 ensures that these advances inform our laws and the manner in which we address our public health response to HIV.

“Today Governor Brown has corrected the misguided actions of California politics when misunderstanding and fear of people living with HIV was widespread,” said Craig E. Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of APLA Health. “SB 239 will end unfair prosecutions of people living with HIV, reduce HIV-related stigma and improve the health of our communities. The bill will also pave the way for other states across the country to reform outdated and discriminatory laws that target people living with HIV.”

“With his signature, Governor Brown has moved California’s archaic HIV laws out of the 1980s and into the 21st century,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “SB 239 will do much to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV – it is not only fair, but it’s good public health. When people are no longer penalized for knowing their status, it encourages them to come forward, get tested and get treatment. That’s good for all Californians.”

In addition to the organizations sponsoring the bill, SB 239 was supported by CHCR members including the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project, Transgender Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Free Speech Coalition and Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP).

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APLA Health’s mission is to achieve health care equity and promote well-being for the LGBT and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV. We are a nonprofit, federally qualified health center serving more than 14,000 people annually. We provide 20 different services from 14 locations throughout Los Angeles County, including: medical, dental, and behavioral health care; PrEP counseling and management; health education and HIV prevention; and STD screening and treatment. For people living with HIV, we offer housing support; benefits counseling; home health care; and the Vance North Necessities of Life Program food pantries; among several other critically needed services. Additionally, we are leaders in advocating for policy and legislation that positively impacts the LGBT and HIV communities, provide capacity-building assistance to health departments across the country, and conduct community-based research on issues affecting the communities we serve. For more information, please visit us at aplahealth.org.