Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Needle exchange, treatment and redemption

Local-control needle exchange legislation, SB 188, sounds like it's in pretty good shape from what I heard of the Texas House Public Health Committee hearing this morning. Rep. Ruth McLendon laid out the bill with an emotional story of personally going into her own district in East San Antonio to distribute needles with a volunteer group (presumably illegally!) and meeting a young man whose family she knew who later went voluntarily into drug treatment.

Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst had earlier sent the bill to a subcommittee chaired by Rep. Susan King; there's no video in the broadcast archives of their April 16 subcommittee hearing, but it sounds like it was quite a meeting. They produced a committee substitute to include the following changes:
  • Includes a preamble written to clarify the purpose of bill (prevent disease and facilitate treatment)
  • Bracketed the legislation to jurisdictions of 300,000 and above
  • Made the bill permissive - no one will be required to have a program
  • Required programs to have an outreach component promoting drug treatment
Kolkhorst said an editorial by Dr. Bill Martin (pdf) in the Houston Chronicle arguing that needle exchange is "the Christian thing to do" had moved her to give the bill a hearing despite initial concerns about the bill. Rep. Susan King, who chaired the subcommittee, was an especially knowledgeable and enthusiastic proponent for the legislation; I hope she'll repeat the performance when it comes up on the House floor because she did a great job arguing the merits of the program.

Reacting to urging from the chair and committee member Dr. John Zerwas, King said the subcommittee added a strong counseling component to the bill, requiring syringe exchange programs to be "one stop shopping" information centers for helping drug addicts access treatment and medical services.

The witnesses began with ministers from St. Mark's in San Antonio and another minister from Austin who gave a faith-based argument for the program. A minister from St. Mark's said Christ ate and sat with sinners, not to condone them but to redeem them. The Austin minister said healing was a central activity of Jesus' own ministry - 72% of Jesus' miraculous activity relates to healing those with physical or mental illness, he said.

I got pulled away on a phone call and soon thereafter the committee recessed to go to the House floor, leaving the bill pending. They'll resume testimony during the House's lunch break around noon. From the sounds of things, though, the subcommittee has come up with a bipartisan compromise on which they can mostly agree. So far, so good.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the archived video of the first part of the hearing. The discussion of SB 188 begins at the 1:00:45 mark. MORE: Here's a link to video of part two of the hearing on SB 188.

1 comment:

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