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House Bill 1198 would get rid of criminal enhancements for people living with HIV

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Posted at 6:19 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 19:18:23-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Ryan White was one of the first children to have ever been diagnosed with AIDS during the epidemic back in the 1980’s. He contracted the disease after a blood transfusion. He was treated and later died in 1990 at Riley Hospital for Children. His diagnosis and advocacy helped change the conversation around HIV and AIDS.

A lot has changed since then, people can live long full lives with the disease and medical breakthroughs allow people to not transmit it to other people. One thing that hasn’t changed since his death are the criminal penalties people with HIV can face.

" When you look at people who work in health care and the number of those people who have contracted AIDS at work it's almost zero,” Dr. Elaine Cox a Pediatric Infectious Diseases Physician at Riley said. “So, you can't get it through casual contact. “

Because of that larger understanding and medical breakthroughs, HIV advocates like the Damien Center are pushing for legislation that will get rid of criminal enhancements for people living with the disease.

"These changes in laws just bring the law to match the safety that's actual in science,” Alan Witchey the President & CEO of Damien Center said.

Currently under Indiana law if someone with HIV places bodily fluids on another person, donates blood or semen it is a level 6 felony. That includes spitting on someone. If a person without HIV spits on another person it is a misdemeanor, those with HIV face felony charges. House bill 1198would change that.

"We have a label you know,” Jeffrey Tuttle who is currently living with HIV said. “To take that label off for me, and hair is kind of standing up, would make me feel free. I don't deserve a label at all."

Tuttle has been living with HIV since 2001. Now he is undetectable meaning he can't transmit the disease to other people through sexual intercourse. If he continues taking treatment, he will live a normal life. He says changing this law would help destigmatize people’s lives.

"We are all brothers and sisters,” Tuttle said. “We all support each other and the queer community, the HIV community needs support."

That support is something the Damien Center says this law change will provide.

"We want everyone to be treated fair and this law is not fair this law treats people unfairly,” Witchey said. "For no reason whatsoever based on fears and misinformation of the past. "

House Bill 1198 already had testimony in front of the House Courts and Criminal Code committee last week. On Wednesday the committee will vote on whether to the send the bill to the full house, they can also offer amendments on it.