Thursday forum in Iowa City addresses criminal HIV law

Current law undermines public health goals, advocates say

IOWA CITY — An effort to change Iowa’s criminal penalties for HIV transmission died in the Iowa Legislature this year, but a panel of experts will discuss the issue at a forum this week.

“Transmission in Iowa: Criminalization and the Changing Legal Landscape” will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Room S030 of the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The panelists are Virginia Tonelli, advocacy coordinator for the group CHAIN; Randy Mayer, chief of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s STD, HIV and hepatitis bureau; and Carol Paper, program coordinator for ICARE in Iowa City.

Advocates say the law undermines public health goals because it makes HIV-infected people less willing to get tested — you cannot be charged if you do not know your status — and less willing to disclose their HIV status to partners, out of fear of prosecution.

The legislation would have aligned state law pertaining to criminal transmission of HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — with other laws on disease transmission, like hepatitis or tuberculosis, and significantly reduced the penalties.

Since the law took effect in Iowa in 1998, 37 people have been charged with the crime and 26 were convicted. Conviction carries a 25-year sentence and lifelong sex offender status — a penalty that exceeds those of most other crimes, including manslaughter.

Iowa is one of 34 states with a transmission law, but its statute is considered the toughest.

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