Urgent Action Required to Fight Unscientific, Stigmatising Nebraska Bill That Will Criminalise Body Fluid Assault on Public Safety Officers
This article was cross-posted from the blog "Criminal HIV Transmission."
This Friday, February 4th, the Nebraska State Legislature will debate The Assault with Bodily Fluids Bill which would criminalise striking any public safety officer with any bodily fluid (or expelling bodily fluids toward them) and includes a specific increase of penalty to a felony (up to five years and/or $10,000 fine) if the defendant is HIV-positive and/or has Hepatitis B or C.
The Bill ignores the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted through spit, urine, vomit, or mucus; punishes the decision to get tested for HIV; and will not keep public safety officers safer, but rather will reinforce misinformation and stigma about HIV.
Two major problems with the Bill are:
1. The proposed language in Sec. 2(3) is contrary to science
- None of the actions criminalised in this Bill pose a real risk of HIV transmission. Spitting while HIV-positive poses no risk of HIV transmission. The Centers for Disease Control has unequivocally stated that spitting cannot transmit HIV. Other "body fluids" identified in the Bill -- including mucus, urine, and vomit, absolutely cannot transmit HIV.
2. Codifying the breach of doctor /patient confidentiality in Sec. 2(5) is extremely serious, and should not be undertaken with no public health benefit
- It is extremely important for public and individual health for people with HIV to get tested at the earliest opportunity, start timely treatment, and stay on treatment. This all hinges on having a good relationship with their doctor or health care provider. Forcing doctors and health care providers to reveal private health information, or even testify about it, will have a negative impact on patient trust of the health care system and willingness to remain engaged in HIV care. The plain language in Sec. 2(5) would force any person charged under this statute to be tested for the identified viruses, or force the opening of their medical records for previous testing results.
The Positive Justice Project (PJP) has produced a set of talking points (download here) that summarises the problems with the Bill, and with HIV-specific legislation in general. PJP highlights that the wording of the Bill is so broad that it would allow for the following Kafkaesque situations:
- If a person with HIV accidentally vomits in the direction of a medical officer in a prison infirmary, they could be sentenced to five more years in prison.
- If someone accidentally sneezes in the direction of a police officer, a judge must grant a court order for their medical records and they may be subjected to involuntary HIV antibody and hepatitis B and C antigen testing if the police officer decides to press charges.
- An inmate who spits or vomits in the direction of a corrections officer, even without hitting or intending to hit the officer, can be forcibly tested for HIV and hepatitis and if found to have any of these viruses, charged with a felony.
- An adolescent with HIV or hepatitis held in a juvenile detention facility who spits while being restrained by a corrections officer, or while arguing with a guidance counselor, could wind up serving five years in an adult prison facility.
PJP asks anyone in the United States who cares about this issue to contact their State representative (using the talking points to highlight the many problems with the Bill) and specifically encourages any networks or individuals in Nebraska to contact:
State Senator Mike Gloor, who introduced the Bill.
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2617
State AIDS Director
Office of Disease Control and Health Promotion
Nebraska Department Health and Human Services
301 Centennial Mall South, 3rd Floor
P.O. Box 95026
Lincoln, Nebraska, 68509-5044
State Prevention Manager
Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
301 Centennial Mall South
Lincoln, Nebraska, 68509