HIV is Not a Crime, Act Up: Fight SB#779!

On the afternoon of May 20th, the Texas Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a previously unscheduled public hearing that was not posted in advance per the Texas Open Meetings Act. At this meeting, Senate Bill 779 (which will be referred to for the rest of this post as SB 779) was considered by the committee. 

(For those unfamiliar, SB 779 proposes to amend the state Health  and Safety Code to allow for HIV test results (which are currently confidential) to be subpoenaed during grand jury proceedings -  and for a defendant's medical records to be accessed without their consent to establish guilt/innocence and also potentially to be used to determine sentencing. Essentially, this bill proposes to criminalize having HIV.

The problematic nature of this bill is explained further by public policy advocate Januari Leo, in an article that appeared in March 2014 in the Dallas Voice

“There’s already {existing} legislation in place via the Ryan White Act requirements making it a crime to intentionally spread HIV; these aren’t these bills. These new bills {including SB 779} use HIV status as a crime, against people who are suspects in a crime but have yet to be proven guilty. They’re allowing prosecutors to use private medical records, as mandated under HIPPA, as a weapon.”

The community, led by the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition and with huge support from entities such as the SERO Project, Positive Women's Network-USA, and advocates all over the state and globe, have been actively opposing this bill. However, members of the HIV community were not made aware of the hearing until mere minutes prior to the start of this hearing. Due to insufficient prior notice, few advocates from the community were able to appear in person to testify in opposition of the bill,  but many placed phone calls and emails to register their concerns and urge the committee to vote against the bill. The bill was left pending throughout most of the afternoon, but unfortunately it passed the committee. 

The Texas Legislative session, which only meets biannually, is over at the end of May. This matter is of DIRE IMPORTANCE; we MUST work diligently to oppose this bill RIGHT NOW. This is our final chance to stop this discriminatory HIV criminalization bill from becoming law.  
Time is of the essence; TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY (May 26 and 27) are the last days for Senate bills to be considered on the House floor. 

We have to reach out to all the members of the Texas Calendars Committee to convince them not to pass this bill. And we need to do it NOW. RIGHT NOW. We are now in the fight of our lives - FOR our lives. 

Keep reading the post (apologies for its length).
Below we tell you what to say and who to say it to!

Senate Bill 779 Talking Points

"Senate Bill 779, introduced by Sen Joan Huffman, would remove the confidential nature of HIV test results and allow them to be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding.  SB 779 is targeted solely at people living with HIV as stated by the Sen. Huffman in the Senate State Affairs Committee when the bill was introduced. SB 779 was passed by the Senate and has now been assigned to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.  We need your help defeating this bill! Please call and email the members of the committee listed below. We also need folks willing to travel to Austin to testify against this harmful bill in the next two weeks. 

(Feel free to use any and all of the below points in phone calls, emails, or other correspondence!)

SB 779 is bad for the estimated 76,000 Texans living with HIV and for Texas for the following reasons:

1. Using HIV test results in any criminal prosecution makes it appear that HIV is the crime rather than the actual crime being investigated. We need public health solutions to fight HIV and not criminal prosecutions.

2. Criminalizing people because they are HIV positive continues to perpetuate fear, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.  Texas does not have an HIV specific criminal statute. Prosecutors should charge the actual crime and not the health status!

3. Treating a medical condition as evidence of a crime is at direct odds with public health campaigns to get as many people as possible tested and, if HIV positive, into treatment. Tests results can’t be used against you if you don’t get tested. 

4. There is no evidence that HIV related prosecutions increase disclosure, reduce the spread of HIV or deter the rare acts of intentional transmission.

5. Laws should reinforce science-based public health messages.  SB 779 could also be applied against persons charged with crimes involving spitting and biting. There is simply no need to prosecute someone for attempting to transmit HIV through spitting or biting, because that is not how HIV is transmitted.

6. It violates the privacy rights of people living with HIV by permitting confidential medical information to be used in a criminal proceeding.  Issuing a protective order at a later stage does not prevent the violation of privacy. 

7. HIV is a chronically manageable disease and should not be treated as a deadly weapon. Defining HIV as a deadly weapon further stigmatizes the disease and those living with it. 

8. Although the bill is supposed to target cases of intentional transmission; it is overbroad and would apply to any person living with HIV involved in a criminal prosecution.  


Texas House Calendar Committee members:

Rep. Todd Hunter (Chair), District 32 (Nueces)

Eddie Lucio (Vice Chair), District 38 (Brownsville)

Roberto Alonzo,  District 104 (Dallas)

Byron Cook, District 8 (Corsicana)

Sarah Davis, District 134 (Houston)

Charlie Geren, District 99 (River Oaks)

Helen Giddings, District 109 (DeSoto)

Patricia Harless, District 126 (Spring)

Dan Huberty, District 127 (Kingwood)

Eric Johnson, District 100 (Dallas)

Ken King, District 88 (Canadian)

Lyle Larson, District 122 (San Antonio)

Four Price, District 87 (Amarillo)

Debbie Riddle, District 150 (Spring)

Eddie Rodriguez, District 51 (Austin)

Thank you."

Here is a direct link to the committee page with all of the Calendar committee members' contact info also.

Sample Tweets You Can Send Out for #SB779 Advocacy
(*Be sure to include the Twitter handles of the members above!!!)

Ppl living w/#HIV deserve the same privacy as anyone else; vote NO on #SB779! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime

#SB779 violates the privacy & dignity of ppl w/#HIV! #TXHIV #texlege #HIVisnotacrime

#HIV does NOT = less than! #SB779 says otherwise. #TXHIV #texlege #HIVisnotacrime

#SB779 is a HUGE step BACKWARDS for #TX; oppose it! #texlege #TXHIV #HIV #HIVisnotacrime

#SB779 poses a #publichealth problem not just for ppl w/#HIV, but 4 ALL of #TX.  #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime

#HIVisnotacrime, but #SB779 treats it as such. Oppose this unfair bill! #texlege #TXHIV #HIV

#TX does NOT need #SB779 to create more #HIV stigma & fear; vote NO! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime 

#HIPAA exists 4 a reason; #SB779 violates privacy & should not pass in #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime #HIV

Texans w/#HIV are NOT 2nd class citizens; oppose #SB779 now! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime

#Publichealth concerns need public health solutions, NOT criminal penalties! #SB779 #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime #HIV

#HIV should be treated the same way we treat other communicable diseases; say NO to #SB779. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime

If #SB779 passes, we will lose years of progress made w/#HIV testing & treatment. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime

#SB779 invades privacy & criminalizes #HIV. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime