(Jefferson City) — A bill that went into effect over the weekend makes the first reforms to Missouri’s HIV criminalization laws since they were passed in the 1980s.
Among other measures related to prosecutors and police, the bill requires prosecutors to prove someone knowingly exposed someone else who contracted HIV before getting a felony conviction, and reduces the minimum sentence from 10 to three years.
Rico Bush, communications director at Empower Missouri, said research shows HIV criminalization laws do not reduce the spread of HIV, but they do increase stigma and discourage people from getting tested – if they worry knowing their status could leave them vulnerable to conviction.
“It actually was deterring from people getting tested and actually knowing their true status,” said Bush. “And then once you know your status, then you can get the help that’s needed. We really want people to be educated about how HIV is passed, and also to get rid of the stigma surrounding HIV.”
Bush said while there’s more to be done, these reforms are an important step. He added that Empower Missouri and other advocates for reducing the stigma around HIV are working to educate people about medications they can take to curb the spread.
More than 13,000 Missourians currently live with HIV. Bush added there also are disparities in enforcement of criminalization laws.
“Since 1990, we know that more than 100 people in Missouri have been convicted of, you know, an HIV crime,” said Bush. “And Black men account for half of HIV crime arrests and convictions in the state, of course, this despite being only 5.5% of the state population.”
A bill introduced in Congress would incentivize states to eliminate their HIV criminalization laws, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act.
Earlier this year, Missouri became the third state to allow pharmacists to dispense HIV medication, like PrEP and PEP, without a prescription from a doctor.