People with HIV can no longer be criminally prosecuted for exposing someone else to the virus without their knowledge.
This makes Illinois the second state to repeal laws making HIV exposure a felony.
Advocates say the law discouraged testing and treatment for HIV — and the repeal is long overdue.
Timothy Jackson was the lead lobbyist of the bill’s repeal. He’s the director of government relations with AIDS Foundation Chicago and has lived with HIV for nearly 12 years. He said he felt joy and shed a couple of tears when Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law last week.
“It was really a weight lifted off of my shoulders and the shoulders of people living with HIV across Illinois that they won’t have to worry about their health condition being weaponized against them,” Jackson said.
State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, who sponsored the bill, said it’s something that should have been off the books in the first place.
“We need to correct the wrong of the historical record when it comes to people living with HIV,” Ammons said. “I found this to be not just criminal justice reform, but this is also health care justice in the face of COVID.”
The criminal transmission law, passed by state lawmakers in the late 1980s, stood in the way of public health strategies because a person could be charged if they didn’t know they had HIV, Jackson said.
“People literally told us, ‘I’m not going to get tested for HIV because I can be charged with this crime,’” Jackson said. “We understand that stands in complete contrast to what we want to happen. We want to encourage people to get tested and get into treatment.”
The law was overly harsh and discriminatory to communities that have been hard hit by HIV, including Black, Latino, indigenous and LGBTQ people, Jackson said.
A recent analysis of Cook County court data by The Circuit, a data project led by Injustice Watch and the Better Government Association, found that Black men make up more than two-thirds of the people charged under the criminal transmission law; and Black people across gender lines represent 75% of those charged.
“That really puts into focus the importance of making sure that we removed this law and that we focus on education, prevention and treatment not only in the Black community, but the Latinx community and others as well,” Jackson said.