The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) filed suit today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia to stop a new law that could significantly worsen the nation’s worst HIV outbreak.
SB 334, considered one of the most restrictive state laws governing syringe exchange services in the nation, was signed by Gov. Jim Justice and is set to take effect July 9. It eliminates most lifesaving harm reduction programs in West Virginia and will likely increase infection rates for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses. The bill is also rife with constitutional defects, ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark said.
“If allowed to become law, SB 334 will cost lives and deprive West Virginians of numerous constitutional rights, including due process and equal protection among others,” Stark said. “The bill should be declared unconstitutional and stopped.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends syringe exchange servicesto stem the spread of infectious disease. CDC has called the Kanawha County HIV outbreak “the most concerning in the nation.” The county, which has a population of less than 180,000, reported just one fewer case in 2019 than all of New York City reported in 2020. New York City’s population is roughly 8.4 million.
ACLU-WV is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of three clients, including Milan Puskar Health Right in Morgantown.
“This bill is not good for the people of West Virginia,” said Laura Jones, Health Right executive director. “We have a commitment to the participants we serve through our harm reduction program. This bill will prevent us from fulfilling our commitment to use CDC best practices to protect our community from outbreaks of HIV and other infectious diseases.”
This is the third lawsuit brought by ACLU-WV in response to actions taken during the 2021 Legislative Session.