13 MO counties at risk for HIV outbreak; Lawmakers crossing party lines to revise laws surrounding disease

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Missouri Legislative

Since its discovery in the United States back in the 80s, scientists now know a lot more about Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) including information related to its causes, symptoms — even treatments. 

But, the global epidemic is slowly creeping in closer to home, with the CDC declaring 21 counties in the Four States combined as at-risk for HIV outbreaks— 13 of those just in the Show-Me State

With the 2020 Missouri Legislative Session kicking off, Representatives Holly Rehder and Tracy McCreery aren’t wasting any time starting the discussion about the possible solutions. 

Representative Tracy McCreery (D,MO-88)
Representative Holly Rehder (R, MO-166)

“A lot of the laws that are currently on the books now dealing with HIV were written long before legislators know what we know about the disease and how it’s spread,” McCreery told 4SHP. “Being HIV-positive is no longer a death sentence and I think it’s important our statutes reflect that reality.”

Currently, Missouri laws consider it a felony for someone HIV-positive to knowingly expose a sexual partner to the virus without telling them they have it.

Both representatives agree that current laws are too strict, but are working on two-fold policy revision. 

The first revision circles around language. 

HIV is the only disease specifically listed in current legislation, which can stigmatize the disease and those living with it. 

New law would replace the term “HIV” with “transmission of a serious, infectious, or communicable disease.”

“By making sure that we’re not criminalizing one specific disease in Missouri’s laws, we will encourage people to get tested and know their HIV status.” 

The second focal point? Punishment. 

“Someone with HIV could be convicted of a felony and that could result in a minimum of five years in prison for knowingly exposing someone to HIV and a minimum of ten years for transmitting HIV,” said McCreery. “It just doesn’t do anything to help with public health when you have laws like that.”

Both reps will compile their own bills based on what they believe would be a best fit for the state, and from there, pitch them to the Health and Mental Health Committee. 

From there, the committee members will use ideas from both bills to create what McCreery calls a “Missouri-specific” statute.

“It’s almost like people can pick and choose what they like best from each bill and then we’ll come up with a custom bill.

Then, the committee will bring the finished product to the House floor for debate. 

And, although she and Rehder belong to different political parties, McCreery says that they share a common goal.

“We very much have a team approach to this issue and we think it’s symbolic in the sense that a Republican and a Democrat are working closely on this,” McCreery continued. “We want our colleagues to realize that this is something that is nonpartisan and that it’s about public health.“

A public health issue that is also receiving national attention from the Oval Office. 

Katherine Tapp
FILE – In this June 27, 2012 file photo, a patient uses an oral test for HIV, inside the HIV Testing Room at the Penn Branch of the District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles, in southeast Washington. Free mail-order HIV tests for high-risk men offer a potentially better strategy for curbing disease spread than usual care, according to a U.S. government study published Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, in JAMA Internal Medicine, that resulted in many more infections detected – including among friends with whom recipients shared extra kits. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

“We’re very pleased that President Trump and his administration have progressed through their departments as well. So this is part of a national movement, both working with the current [state] departments but also with other [national]  departments to make sure Missourians are doing everything they can to stay healthy and look at our public health efforts as well. 

It’s a problem that Missouri lawmakers hope to combat not only with policy revision — but by simply starting the conversation.

“The more we talk about these things, not just with our colleagues but especially with the public, we feel like we’re taking steps toward making Missouri a healthier place.”

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