Thursday, May 17, 2007

Delisi: Research, Smesearch, I Don't Wanna

Though there's still technically time for it to pass, the Houston Chronicle is already writing obituaries for pending needle exchange legislation at the Texas Lege. What a disappointment!

Even though the bill was supported by a 7-1 margin in the Senate committee (including conservative Chair Jane Nelson), even though 60% of GOP senators voted for it, the House chair whose committee heard Texas' pending needle exchange legislation this week refuses to let her committee vote on it, she told the Houston Chronicle ("No hope for needle exchange legislation," May 17).

SB 308 would empower local governments to decide whether to allow nonprofit needle exchange operations, and for the first time ever the legislation passed the Senate. House Public Health Chair Dianne Delisi gave the bill a public hearing the other day, but now tells the press she won't allow it to receive a final committee vote, presumably because she fears a majority of committee members support it.

Nobody testified against this bill in either chamber's committee hearing, yet somehow Delisi's fears persist that there's something wrong with needle exchange that none of the extensive research supporting the concept has revealed to experts and researchers everywhere else in the nation and for that matter across the globe:

"I have not been persuaded that the public health benefits outweigh the concerns of many members, myself included, of providing needles for those that are using illegal drugs," she said.

Texas is the only state in the country that does not allow a needle-exchange program for drug users.

Delisi is from Temple, where I suppose the problem of IV drug use isn't as immediate as it is in urban districts. But in neighborhoods where injection drug use is common, everywhere it's been implemented needle exchange saves lives and tax dollars. Delisi could still at least give her colleagues a chance to decide the matter, given that a super-duper-majority of the Senate, as Dan Patrick would put it, approved of the idea.

A week ago I said the needle exchange bill pitted small government Republicans against the party's more authoritarian wing - score one, I guess, for the authoritarian side.

One of the fascinating debates of the 80th session has been the Governor's back and forth with the Legislature over a vaccine for young girls to prevent a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. The Governor's recent statement about HPV vaccine was so apropos to the needle exchange debate, I substituted needles for the vaccine in this quote to show that the argument for both policies is identical. Said Governor Perry:
it is the tone of this debate that has disturbed me most. The notion of forgiveness and grace has been totally lost in this debate. People make wrong choices. Our society is full of such individuals who have found redemption from past mistakes.

But if we had a vaccine for lung cancer, would we stop its widespread use because it might send a message that it is okay to engage in an unhealthy behavior like smoking?

The sad irony is, if you or I had a family member suffering from [HIV acquired from a dirty needle], there is no treatment we would rob them of if it could take away the pain and bring them back to health. And yet, we won't provide them [clean needles] that can prevent all that pain and suffering - that death sentence - to begin with because of the message it might send? What about a message of grace, compassion and forgiveness for anyone who has made wrong choices? Have we lost sight of that? (Bracketed items substituted)
Have we, indeed? Sen. Robert Deuell, who deserves tremendous credit for sponsoring and working hard on the bill (he changed his position on the subject four years ago, he has said, after he reviewed the medical evidence), made similar points to Governor Perry regarding compassion for the ill vs. moralizing against the sinner. As reported here, Deuell told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee:
"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.
Some people's faith, I guess, is stronger than others. It's a shame one person could unilaterally derail the will of the Senate, her own committee, and in my estimation probably the rest of the House.

Damn. Damn. Damn. I H-A-T-E May of odd numbered years.

The worst part is, Delisi is simply wrong, and Dr. Deuell is unquestionably right. If her "concerns" can't be addressed by existing research they are likely not based on rational argument but a fear of being perceived as caring about drug users. However, on the off chance that Rep. Delisi or anybody else might care what the research really says, here are a few key links on the topic compiled over at Sifting the Haystack:
UPDATE: The conservative Lone Star Times blog call Delisi's decision to block the bill "Repub grandstanding at its finest."


Anonymous said...

There it is; Rethug wingnuttia in all its vomit-inducing ignobility "I have not been persuaded--"

You're absolutely bang on in every direction you take this post, and kudos for saying it. The fear of being seen as caring about lowlife trash, well, I for one know who I'll be targeting like there's no tomorrow with the pending GOTV campaigns, now that HB 218 is TOAST.

Of the hundreds of committee hearings I attended this session, this is the one that brought tears to my eyes, the eloquence of Senators and DOCTORS Deuell and Janek cast a spell over that room, a spiritual and all too rare non-partisan effort that left such a feeling of hope and possibility in the air. People were moved, into the reality-based community where the facts are friendly and the truth can't hurt us.

I can't imagine the hubris this woman has to possess, ignorance, yes, goes without saying, but the gall, boggles the mind.

Anonymous said...

In refusing to allow a bill that would legalize needle-exchange programs—proven worldwide to significantly reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C—to come to a vote in the House Public Health Committee, a vote it would surely win, Chairwoman Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, said, “I have not been persuaded that the public health benefits outweigh the concerns of many members, myself included, of providing needles for those that are using illegal drugs.”(Houston Chronicle 5/17). It should be noted that Rep. Delisi (and fellow opponent co-chair Jodie Laubenberg) declined to speak with or accept supportive materials from advocates for this absolutely proven public health measure throughout the current legislative session. She resisted holding a hearing until the last week of the session, then did not attend it herself. Had she done so, she would have heard a series of experts provide incontrovertible—and undisputed—evidence in support of such programs. Notably, one of the several public and private health agencies appearing in support was the Center for Health Care Policy of Temple’s Scott and White Hospital, co-founded by Ms. Delisi’s grandfather. (Though not mentioned at the hearing, a 2006 survey reported that only two of twenty-seven clergy from fourteen denominations in Temple said they opposed needle-exchange programs; nineteen approved.) The Senate has voted 22-7 in favor of the bill (SB308), crafted by conservative Republican Sen. Bob Deuell and backed by Houston Sen. Kyle Janek, both of them physicians. A clear majority of the House Public Health Committee favors the bill and sources familiar with House sentiment feel certain the bill would pass the full House by a similar proportion. Rep. Delisi’s refusal to allow a vote on this bill is an abuse of her position as committee chair, an affront to representative democracy, and a willfully uninformed act that will cost Texas untold millions of dollars and condemn thousands of people to death or unnecessary suffering.

For more, see
Or “The Damage Done,” Texas Monthly (April 2007).

William Martin
Senior Fellow,
James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University<