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Iowa revamps harsh HIV criminalization law

Iowa is now the first of 34 states with HIV criminalization laws on the books to ease back on stigma.
Iowa HIV Exposure Law
Leslie Flaggs was convicted in Iowa for having sex with a man while HIV positive. She had to register as a sex offender and has had a difficult time seeking treatment.

Iowa lawmakers dealt a death blow last week to especially harsh sections of one of the most draconian laws in the country criminalizing people living with HIV.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad approved a bill on Friday that effectively gutted a law he first signed as governor more than 16 years earlier in response to panic over the spread of HIV and AIDS. In 1990, Congress agreed to offer federal funds for states to cope with the growing epidemic, but with strings attached. States received the health care funding on the condition that HIV transmission become criminalized.

Iowa took some of the most extreme measures. In 1998, when Branstad was governor the first time around, the law went into effect mandating that Iowans living with HIV who knowingly exposed another person “in a manner that could result in the transmission” could be convicted of a felony and face up to 25 years in prison. They could also be penalized even if they used a condom.

The new law softens the punishment by going after people who intend to transmit the disease without another person’s knowledge or consent. And rather than single out HIV, the law now includes other infectious diseases like tuberculosis, meningitis and hepatitis while making criminal sentencing a tiered system.

Advocates hailed the bill signing as a historic victory that culminated after years of lobbying on the behalf of convicted Iowans.  

“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,” Tami Haught, Community Organizer with CHAIN, said in a statement.

Iowa is now the first of 34 states with HIV criminalization laws on the books to revise their policies.

According to Donna Red Wing, executive director for the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa,“This bill will send an important message across the nation, most significantly to those states that still operate under the misinformation of the past.”