San Francisco Chronicle: Pass SB239 for public health

September 21, 2017

By the San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board

Bills from the just-ended legislative session are piling up on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and he may be tempted to veto some of those that seem controversial. That can’t happen with SB239.

SB239, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, sounds like an eyebrow-raiser at first. It reduces the penalty for HIV-positive people who knowingly expose others to the disease from a felony to a misdemeanor. Certain online news sites have had a field day with the bill, claiming the result will be a spike in HIV transmissions.

At the height of the AIDS epidemic, California passed the current law making intentional transmission of HIV a felony. This is far stricter legal treatment than exists for the intentional transmission of other infectious diseases, including many very serious ones.

The reason for this is simple: When it comes to public health, experts have learned that the best way to prevent epidemics is to treat infected people.

It’s difficult to do that if people who have the disease are being threatened with state prison.

That’s why a wide array of organizations that deal with public health, LGBTQ issues, and civil rights are standing in support of SB239. Wiener wants the rest of the state to achieve a record low for new HIV infections, as San Francisco has after an aggressive city prevention effort.

“The reality is, being sick is not a crime, it’s a health issue,” Wiener said. “When you criminalize health conditions, all you do is push people into the shadows. We want people who are infected to know their status and get care. You don’t do that by threatening them with state prison.”

Sign SB239, governor.

Read the editorial here.