Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Brown signs HIV decriminalization, sex offender bills

Governor Jerry Brown

Governor Jerry Brown

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed into law two closely watched bills that had been shepherded by gay Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). The first bill, SB 239, aims to decriminalize HIV. The second bill, SB 384, is designed to allow many gay men to come off the state’s sex offender registry.

SB 239, which was authored by Wiener and gay freshman Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), updates state criminal law to approach HIV transmission in the same way as transmission of other serious communicable diseases. The law also updates state statutes based on the current understanding of HIV prevention, transmission, and treatment. Additionally, it fulfills a key goal of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. With SB 239 becoming law, California joins Colorado and Iowa as the first states to modernize HIV laws.

“Today California took a major step toward treating HIV as a public health issue, instead of treating people living with HIV as criminals,” Wiener said in a statement. “HIV should be treated like all other serious infectious diseases, and that’s what SB 239 does. We are going to end new HIV infections, and we will do so not by threatening people with state prison time, but rather by getting people to test and providing them access to care. I want to thank Governor Brown for his support in helping to put California at the forefront of a national movement to reform these discriminatory laws.”

Gloria stated, “State law will no longer discourage Californians from getting tested for HIV. With the governor’s signature today, we are helping to reduce the stigma that keeps some from knowing their HIV status and getting into treatment to prevent additional infections.”

One of SB 239’s sponsors was the statewide LGBT group Equality California, which had tried unsuccessfully for years to get someone in the state Legislature to take on HIV decriminalization before Wiener and Gloria picked it up. Both lawmakers were elected to their legislative seats last fall.

Rick Zbur, EQCA’s executive director, stated, “Our understanding of HIV and its transmission have moved into the 21st century, but California law was mired in the 1980s. With his signature, Governor Brown has eliminated laws that unfairly stigmatized and criminalized people living with HIV and taken a big step forward to advance public health in our state.”

Sex offender registry will change 

SB 384, which Wiener authored, reforms the state’s sex offender registry.

California has been one of only four states where all sex offenders, ranging from violent predators to men caught having sex in public parks, are treated the same with lifetime registration. SB 384 creates a tiered registry: High-risk offenders will be on the registry for life, and others will be able to petition for removal after either 10 or 20 years without reoffending, depending on the offense. Removal for offenders in Tiers 1 and 2 won’t be automatic.

SB 384 becomes effective January 1, 2018, and grants three years before eligible registrants can begin the process to petition to be removed from the registry.

Wiener stated, “California’s sex offender registry is broken, which undermines public safety. SB 384 refocuses the sex offender registry on high-risk offenders and treats low-level offenders more fairly. I’m grateful for Governor Brown’s support. I want to thank the broad coalition behind this bill, including law enforcement, rape crisis centers, and social justice advocates. With this reform, our law enforcement agencies will be able to better protect people from violent sex offenders rather than wasting resources tracking low-level offenders who pose little or no risk of repeat offense. Our sex offender registry is a tool used to prevent and investigate crimes, and these changes will make it a better and more effective tool for keeping our communities safe.”

SB 384’s sponsors included EQCA, the Los Angeles District Attorney, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Zbur stated, “California law and police practices that targeted LGBTQ people with entrapment and discrimination have changed for the better. But thousands of LGBTQ people still find themselves on California’s sex offender registry for behavior that harmed no one, was motivated by discriminatory police enforcement practices and that would not be prosecuted today. Governor Brown’s signature will restore livelihoods and help restore the registry as a tool for investigating those who pose a real danger to society.”

Sandra Hernandez, CEO of California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, stated, “SB 384 marks an important success in legislation for CALCASA and the movement to end sexual violence. This reform promotes better measures for public safety, better practices in allocating resources, and centers survivors voices in the need for offender rehabilitation and a system that promotes community health, prevention, and safety beyond monitoring.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley also praised the new law.

“SB 384 fixes an antiquated, ineffective, 70-year-old system and provides the essential safeguards for public safety,” O’Malley stated. “This bill proposes a balanced and measured reform of this system, allowing prosecutors and law enforcement to focus their resources on tracking sex offenders who pose a real risk to public safety.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, October 6, 2017 @ 4:21 pm PST
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