- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Iowa House committee on Wednesday approved a bill reducing penalties for unknowingly exposing someone to HIV but only after making changes to a version that unanimously passed the Senate.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously supported the bill, which would change a law making it a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison to expose a partner to HIV without his or her consent.

But the panel changed the measure approved by the Senate last month, creating three classes of felonies that would depend on several factors, including whether someone intentionally tried to infect another person.

The measure would apply to the transmission of meningitis, hepatitis and tuberculosis as well as HIV.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said the bill modernizes Iowa’s outdated law, which relied on outdated science about the spread of HIV and other diseases. He said the Senate version didn’t provide enough protection for victims.

“It’s a tough subject and a tough issue to deal with and there’s a lot of emotion,” he said.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said the bill is an improvement over the current law, which she characterized as draconian. She said she still has concerns that the House version will keep people with HIV and other infectious diseases from getting tested because it continues to criminalize those who know they carry a disease and could potentially infect another.

“Somebody who’s afraid of being a criminal may not get tested,” she said. “I think we have the opportunity with the Senate bill to eliminate HIV-AID and that’s what we need to do. If everybody gets tested and gets treated we can get rid of this disease forever.”

Sen. Matt McCoy, who has led efforts to change Iowa’s law, said the House version is a step backward but the bill is still alive this session for additional work.

“It needs substantial work in order to be something meaningful for those individuals that had worked on this,” he said. “We need to focus on the issues that initially brought us to the table and that was individuals through no fault of their own being convicted of Class B felonies for engaging in safe sex practices and following their doctors consent.”

One of the cases highlighting the problems with Iowa’s current law is that of Nick Rhoades, who was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for not telling a partner he carried the HIV virus when they had sex in 2008.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in an appeal of the case after the Iowa Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in October. That court concluded Rhoades had violated the state’s HIV transmission law because he didn’t disclose that he was infected, even though his partner did not acquire the virus and their encounter posed a low risk of transmission.

Iowa passed a law in 1998 making it a felony for someone with HIV to engage in intimate contact with another person without disclosing it. That is defined as the intentional exposure of the body of one person to a bodily fluid of another person in a manner that could result in the transmission of HIV. The law does not specify that the other party must become infected for there to be a crime.

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