Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why conservatives should support TX bill authorizing non-government needle-exchange pilots

Though there are now many delayed bills ahead of it which weren't heard on Friday, in theory HB 65 by McClendon will be up for a floor vote on Monday in the Texas House of Representatives. Or perhaps it will now be delayed until Tuesday if debate on the bills before it go long.

Either way, there's reason to think needle-exchange legislation could succeed this session when it's failed in the past. In 2013, an earlier version of McClendon's bill failed to pass the House on a tight 63-70 vote following an unusual bout of parliamentary back and forth.  At root, opponents objected to using taxpayer money of any sort to pay for needles for addicts.

New bill, new dynamic
Which brings us to this year's bill: In committee, a faction of Tea Party legislators combined to block the original version, which would have allowed hospital districts or public-health departments in seven pilot counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, Nueces, and Webb) to operate taxpayer funded needle exchanges. In its stead, they demanded a version in which spending taxpayer money on needle exchange is forbidden and private charities operate the program. That version passed out of committee unanimously, with some of the most conservative members of the Texas House (Burrows, Schubert, Spitzer, Stickland, and Tinderholt) voting to approve it.

Find below the jump the text of a flyer I created on behalf of my employers at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition making the case, "Why Conservatives Should Support CSHB 65 Authorizing Non-Government Needle Exchange Pilots." The themes came from your correspondent visiting with conservative offices that supported the bill in committee and mining the reasons why each of them voted for it, using to the greatest extent possible their own rhetorical framing and language. Check it out.

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Why Conservatives Should Support CSHB 65
Authorizing Non-Government Needle Exchange Pilots

Bill is on Monday’s general state calendar.


Needle exchange can be controversial because conservatives understandably object to public funds paying for addicts’ paraphernalia, believing that is not an appropriate government role.  However, conservatives also believe in letting free markets and free people seek solutions to society’s problems.  So it would be wrong to impinge on the liberty of independent charities seeking to prevent disease through these programs, which have been proven effective everywhere they operate.

Sentiment among national conservative leaders has shifted on this subject. Last month, Kentucky’s first needle exchange opened in Louisville after its legislature authorized the program.  And Indiana’s Governor Mike Spence on May 5 signed a bill authorizing needle exchange to prevent the spread of HIV.  Both Kentucky and Indiana are solidly red states.  Disease prevention is not a partisan issue.


CSHB 65 received unanimous support in the House County Affairs Committee, including from all Republicans: Burrows, Schubert, Spitzer, Stickland, and Tinderholt.

The substitute for HB 65 authorizes needle exchange pilot programs in seven Texas counties, but solves the principle conservative concerns by forbidding public funding and disallowing counties or hospital districts from themselves operating the programs. Instead, local government can authorize programs operated by other organizations such as nonprofits.

Agents of the authorized programs would be protected from arrest on drug or paraphernalia charges during the course of their operations. That’s necessary because the last time the Legislature authorized a needle exchange pilot, the Bexar County District Attorney scuttled the plan by threatening to prosecute program volunteers.

CSHB 65 lets charities do what charities do best – ministering to the poor and sick – while keeping government out of an area conservatives have long thought is not its business.

Those changes earned Rep. McLendon’s bill unanimous support in committee. We hope you will support it, too.

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