Friday, April 27, 2007

Texas Senate prescribes voluntary needle exchange programs

What an odd turn of events - for years in the '90s when liberal Rep. Glen Maxey carried needle exchange legislation in a Democratic led House of Representatives, he never could pass the bill. It took a Republican Senate and bill sponsor to give the idea legs at the Texas Legislature. Who woulda thought?

Counterintuitive or not, the Texas Senate this morning accepted Dr. Robert Deuell's prescription to allow local governments to operate or approve voluntary needle exchange programs! That's the first time legislation supporting needle exchange has ever passed either chamber in the Texas Legislature. Bill supporters included Senate Health and Human Services Chair Jane Nelson who opposed the legislation in years past. In all, twelve Republicans joined 11 Democrats on a final vote of 23-8 to pass SB 308 out of the Senate.

In committee, Sen. Deuell gave one of the best performances of the session, I thought - his eloquent and passionate opening remarks set the tone for the debate and explain why he was able to convince so many of his fellow Republicans to join his cause. I was so pleased to see the Senate floor vote I went back and watched his opening again. (You can watch the April 12 committee hearing here. SB 308 was taken up 1 hour 39 minutes into the hearing.)

"Ronald Reagan said that 'facts are stubborn things,'" Deuell reminded his fellow commitee members, and the facts, he said, are that every medical study ever performed found that these programs reduce transmission of HIV and Hep C. What's more, he said, no medical study has ever shown that needle exchange programs promote drug use. In fact 20% of participants seek drug treamtent through such programs.

Deuell told the committee he supports the bill "both as a physician and a Christian." SB 308 doesn't support drug use, he said, but sends a message that "every human life has value." "My faith does not allow me to give up on anyone," he declared.

Thank you and congrats to Sen. Deuell and to all the bill's supporters. Kudos are also in order for Jon Lindsay who tirelessly carried the bill for several sessions before he retired - the bill's strong showing in the Senate in 2005 definitely laid the groundwork for today's vote. Finally, Chair Jane Nelson deserves thanks and credit for her leadership and, as Sen. Janek put it, a "courageous" vote - her and Deuell's gravitas in the Senate has a lot to do with why that bill passed, IMO.

Now the bill heads to the House, but before that, here's the list of senators who voted for SB 308 - if one of them represents you, be sure to call or write to them to say you appreciate their vote:

Averitt(R); Carona(R); Deuell(R); Duncan(R); Ellis, Rodney(D); Eltife(R); Gallegos(D); Harris(R); Hegar(R); Hinojosa(D); Janek(R); Lucio(D); Nelson(R); Nichols(R); Seliger(R); Shapleigh(D); Uresti(D); Van de Putte(D); Watson(D); Wentworth(R); West(D) Whitmire(D); Zaffirini(D)

UPDATE: See initial coverage in the SA Express News, the Dallas News, at Texas Politics blog, and at BurkaBlog

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