Monday, May 21, 2007

Wow! Texas House approves needle exchange for Bexar County

Well, it's not the statewide permission for local governments to approve needle exchanges that Senator Deuell and the Texas Senate wanted, but the Texas House approved an amendment to SB 10 this afternoon to allow Bexar County to operate a pilot needle exchange program. If it becomes law, this would be the first legal needle exchange in Texas!

Sen. Deuell's SB 308, legislation that would allow local governments to approve needle exchange programs in their jurisdictions, formally died in the House Public Health Committee on Saturday, the last day that House committees could approve Senate bills. But three days later the idea was resurrected, at least for Bexar County, with an amendment by Rep. McLendon.

The Bexar needle exchange pilot was approved on a 71-60 vote after Rep. Dianne Delisi, who earlier spoke against the idea, withdrew her motion to table. (I know folks in Austin, Dallas and Houston, probably elsewhere, would like that authority, too, but maybe in 2009.)

This has been an amazing year for an issue that's lingered at the fringes of legislative interest for many sessions. Both chambers of the Texas Legislature in 2007 voted in favor of needle exchange legislation, by votes of 23-8 in the Senate and 71-60 in the House. Remarkable.

The amendment should stay on in conference committee since it was amended to a bill by Sen. Jane Nelson, who voted for needle exchange legislation in her committee in the Senate. I should pause here to thank Rep. Delisi for compromising with her fellow Public Health Committee member and withdrawing her motion to table the amendment. (An interesting aside for tea-leaf readers: Delisi was shown as "absent" on the vote even though she is the House sponsor of the amended Senate bill!)

Congrats to Rep. McLendon, to Sen. Deuell, and needle exchange supporters across Texas, particularly Tracey Hays and Bill Martin who must be overjoyed at the news. And folks in Bexar County, please do a good job and document your work and sucesses so we can come back in 2009 and be able to show the Lege that needle exchange works and the concept should be expanded.

UPDATE: More from the Fort Worth Startlegram.

See prior Grits coverage:

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