According to the HIV Justice Network, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) recently signed a new law making it a felony to pass on a communicable disease when they “should have known” they had it.

Opponents of the law are concerned that it will be used to punish people who unknowingly transmit HIV or other STDs to sexual partners. Such HIV criminalization legislation has disproportionately targeted Black men and other men of color.

The law, known as HB 103, punishes people who “expel” saliva, blood, or another bodily fluid onto a police officer with up to 7 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

While the offense, a third-degree felony, must be “intentional,” an arrestee could be charged with it if they spit on an officer while speaking or bleed on an officer during a violent arrest.

People are also charged with a second-degree felony if they knew or “should have known” they had a communicable disease after infecting someone else with it. The offense is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of $25,000.

This would apply not only to people who intentionally transmit HIV, but also to people who unintentionally transmit hepatitis, influenza, chickenpox, and COVID-19.

The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania HIV Justice Alliance, the Positive Women’s Network-USA, the Sero Project, the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, Advocates for Youth, and many other organizations have all spoken out against the bill.

“As a person living with HIV who was born and raised in Pennsylvania, the passage of HB 103 serves as a reminder that as we get closer to ending the HIV epidemic, we still have a long way to go to end HIV stigma and the criminalization of people living with HIV,” said Louie Ortiz-Fonseca, Advocates for Youth’s Director of LGBTQ Health & Rights.

According to medical professionals, HIV criminalization laws do nothing to stop the virus’s spread and may even discourage people from getting tested for fear of facing criminal charges.

According to a 2018 Williams Institute study on HIV criminalization in Georgia, “Black men and Black women were more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for HIV-related offenses.” While white males accounted for 26% of HIV-related arrests, black males accounted for 46% of HIV-related arrests. Furthermore, 11% of those arrested were white females, while 16% were black females.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 states have laws that criminalize HIV exposure as of 2022. (CDC). Many of the laws were passed at a time when little was known about HIV and millions were dying from the virus.

“Many of these state laws criminalize actions that cannot transmit HIV, such as biting or spitting, and apply regardless of actual transmission or intent,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote. “After more than 40 years of HIV research and significant biomedical advances to treat and prevent HIV transmission, many state laws are now out of date and do not reflect our current understanding of HIV,” says the report.