BISMARCK — A Republican-led committee of the North Dakota Legislature has voted against a bill that would lessen the penalty for knowingly transmitting HIV.
Currently, residents who consciously infect a sexual partner with the virus could face a Class A felony, which comes with up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. House Bill 1106 would make the offense an infraction, which carries a fine up to $1,000 and no jail time.
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, D-Fargo, said the penalty for knowingly transmitting HIV is unfairly harsh and doesn't align with the infractions North Dakotans face if they willfully infect someone with any other sexually transmitted disease, like hepatitis or syphilis.
Dobervich argued that charging someone with a sex crime for the offense deters those infected from seeking treatment for the virus. She added that the harsh law is a vestige of the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the virus has since become much more treatable. Only three people have been convicted with a felony under the current law, she said.
The 14-member House Judiciary Committee voted to mark the bill with a "Do Not Pass" recommendation, likely quashing the proposal's chances when it faces a vote on the House floor in the coming days.
Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, rejected the bill because he said the punishment for knowingly infecting someone with a potentially deadly disease should be greater than just a small fine. However, Vetter noted, he would consider supporting legislation that takes the offense down to a misdemeanor.
There were an estimated 468 North Dakota residents with HIV in 2019, but 80% are virally suppressed, meaning they are very unlikely to transmit the virus, according to the state Department of Health.