South Dakota bill would let health officials report HIV exposures

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com January 30 2003 1:00 AM ET

The South Dakota Department of Health is seeking legal authority to alert prosecutors about people with HIV who are having sex without disclosing their serostatus. A state bill to allow notification was passed unanimously Friday by the house judiciary committee, sending the measure to the floor for additional debate. State health secretary Doneen Hollingsworth said the bill was prompted by last year's conviction of Huron college student Nikko Briteramos, who had sex with his girlfriend without letting her know he was HIV-positive. Briteramos, the first person convicted in South Dakota of deliberately exposing another person to HIV, is currently serving a four-year prison term.

The Briteramos case points out the need for a clear legal authority to alert prosecutors when people are suspected of intentionally exposing others to HIV, Hollingsworth said. "We need the ability, in very rare instances, to present that information to law enforcement when someone displays blatant disregard of public health statutes," she said. The bill would allow the department to release otherwise confidential HIV information to prosecutors if ordered to do so by a judge. Health officials also would be permitted to alert the attorney general or state prosecutors if they suspect someone is deliberately exposing others to the virus.

Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said the bill would violate privacy rights, discourage people from telling their doctors if they suspect they have HIV, and lead many to avoid being tested for HIV antibodies for fear of being reported to state authorities.