Lawmakers likely unwilling to overhaul HIV-transmission law

January 12, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature has signaled its reluctance to back legislation that would dramatically overhaul a state law that makes it a felony for people who have HIV to knowingly transmit the disease.

Under North Dakota law, a person convicted of exposing a partner to HIV without their consent is guilty of a sex crime and could face up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. It’s only an infraction with up to a $1,000 fine for someone who knowingly transmits other sexually transmitted diseases.

Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, the primary sponsor of the bill filed by Democrats, said the state law passed in the 1980s is inconsistent and outdated and that HIV is not easy to contract as it once was and can be managed with drugs.

Dobervich told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that it’s time to update “our state’s response to appropriately reflect 21st Century medical advances.”

The 14-member panel gave the bill a “do not pass” recommendation. The two Democrats on the committee supported the bill, as did one Republican.

The full House will vote on the bill later.

GOP Rep. Steve Vetter said lowering the crime from a felony to an infraction would only result in a “measly fine.”

“That’s not enough for me,” said Vetter who voted against the bill in committee.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 37 states have laws that criminalize HIV exposure. People with HIV who are on antiretroviral drugs that keep their viral load below a specific threshold have “effectively no risk” of transmitting HIV, according to the CDC.

The state Department of Health said were an estimated 468 people in the state living with HIV in December 2019, the latest figures available. The health department said about 81% of them are virally suppressed, meaning they are unable to transmit the virus.

Health officials said only three people in North Dakota have been convicted since the 1980s under the current HIV-related law.