Civil rights group supports Senate bill meant to reform HIV criminal laws in Nevada

Silver State Equality, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, announced its support for a recently introduced Senate bill aimed at recognizing HIV as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.

Senate Bill 275 was introduced by Sen. Dallas Harris, D-Las Vegas, to reform HIV criminal laws in Nevada, bringing them more in line with laws that govern other communicable diseases. Under current law, it is a felony to act in a way that could knowingly spread HIV, while it is a misdemeanor to knowingly spread other communicable diseases.

The bill is meant to encourage an increase in HIV testing, treatment and the use of other preventative measures to help reduce the spread of HIV, according to a news release from Silver State Equality.

“We’re hopeful that this is the first step toward treating HIV as a public health issue instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” said Andre Wade, state director for Silver State Equality Institute, in a statement on Tuesday. “Considering Nevada’s progressive orientation, it’s unfathomable that our laws continue to criminalize otherwise legal behavior based on a person’s HIV status, ignoring the fact that these laws are out of sync with science and what we know about the transmission of HIV. It’s long past time we reform these discriminatory laws that target and impact certain populations more likely to be living with the HIV virus.”

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Wade also serves as co-chair of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ advisory task force on HIV exposure modernization, along with Harris. He said current laws are ineffective at preventing the spread of the virus and help discourage people from getting tested.

State law criminalizes someone who intentionally, knowingly or willfully engages in conduct that likely leads to the spread of HIV to another person, according to the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. It’s also currently illegal to work in a licensed brothel house after testing positive for the virus.

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According to Silver State Equality, the fight to change Nevada laws on HIV began in 2019 when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 284, which led to creating a governor-appointed advisory task force.

Marcella Corona is a reporter covering local underrepresented communities in Northern Nevada. Support her work by subscribing to RGJ.com.