May 27, 1997

Calif. Senate OKs bill to make HIV assaults felony

SACRAMENTO, Calif (Reuter) - A person who tries to infect a sex partner with the AIDS virus could face up to nine years in prison under legislation approved by the California Senate Tuesday.

The Senate approved Rainey's bill on a vote of 24-to-1, sending the measure to the Assembly for review.

Senator Richard Rainey, a Republican, said his bill was designed to close a gap in state law and toughen state penalties against any person who uses human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as a weapon to intentionally infect others.

``This bill sends a clear message to those few individuals who intentionally attempt to infect others with HIV,'' Rainey said in a statement. ``Such behavior is a clear menace to public safety and will not be tolerated.''

Under existing state law, it is a misdemeanor to willfully expose another person to a contagious, infectious or communicable disease.

Under Rainey's bill, it would be a felony to expose another person to HIV with the intent to infect them. Offenders would face five to nine years in prison for the crime.

Rainey introduced his bill in response to several high-profile HIV assault cases in California. At least 25 other states have similar laws in place, his office said.

The bill was supported by law enforcement groups. It was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.