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Advocates push for changes to Ohio's HIV-related laws, noting coronavirus has changed state policies

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Ohio is among more than two dozen states that still has criminal penalties related to HIV.

There are around 25,000 Ohioans living with HIV, and about a thousand people are newly diagnosed each year in Ohio. But advocates say Ohio’s HIV laws need to be changed, as lawmakers have considered measures related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 30 states require people with HIV to inform partners before sexual contact, according to the CDC. Ohio is one, with a possible penalty of eight years in prison.

Not disclosing known HIV+ status is felonious assault, under Ohio law. An Ohio Supreme Court ruling in 2017 upheld the disclosure requirement as constitutional. Another section of the law states that "engaging in solicitation after a positive HIV test is a felony of the second degree".

Loren Anthes with the Center for Community Solutions noted that’s more time than reckless homicide or robbery - which are both third-degree felonies, typically punishable by five years in prison - or sometimes arson.

Anthes said that’s interesting as some treatments are making HIV undetectable and untransmittable, and as lawmakers debate measures about exposure to the coronavirus, which is spread through the air.

“We're preferencing one that is more harmful to more people in many ways than another, which there is treatment for which there is access challenges with when it comes to the issue of criminalization," Anthes said. "And we've literally criminalized people having one virus while enabling other folks to spread a different one.

Nine states have repealed or changed their HIV laws since 2014. A coalition of advocates is working on a bill that it says will modernize Ohio’s HIV statutes, with the hope it will be introduced with bipartisan support next year.

World AIDS Day is December 1.

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