Monday, December 29, 2008

Good chances for Texas needle exchange bill next year, but assume nothing

While I agree Texas has the best chance in my lifetime to pass needle exchange legislation next spring, perhaps the San Antonio Express News editorial board was counting unhatched chickens when they opined that, with long-time opponent Rep. Diane Delisi retired, the bill will now finally, easily pass.

Former Rep. Dianne Delisi, a Republican from Temple, opposed the bill in the House ... But rather than simply voting against it, she abused her position as chairwoman of the Public Health Committee by refusing to allow it to come to a vote.

After 18 years in the House, Delisi resigned her seat in July. The same bipartisan group of lawmakers who pushed the legislation two years ago — Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio — plans to reintroduce similar measures in the upcoming session.

There can be little doubt that given the opportunity for floor votes in the Senate and House, Texas will join the 49 other states in making needle exchange programs legal.

I'd like to think that's true, having been a more or less active proponent of the idea since Glen Maxey used to carry the legislation back in the '90s. Certainly needle exchange legislation enters the 81st session with a ton of good vibes and positive momentum. After all, 22 senators have already gone on record supporting it. And a majority of House members voted for a pilot program in Bexar County with no impact on anyone's re-election.

But Texas' legislative process is designed to kill bills, not to pass them, and there's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Who knows, for example, who will replace Delisi as Chair of Public Health, which is of course a function of who wins the now-wide open Speakers race?

For the record, I dispute the charge that Delisi "abused her position as chairwoman of the Public Health Committee by refusing to allow [the bill] to come to a vote." While I disagreed with her decision because I knew we had enough votes on Public Health to pass the bill, in truth it's the committee chair's job to make those decisions. That was her prerogative under the rules and not an "abuse" of authority just because I or the SA Express News editorial writers don't like it.

I'm optimistic needle exchange legislation can finally pass in 2009, but that doesn't make it a slam dunk. In fact, it means it's time for supporters to bear down extra hard to finally push this legislation over the hump.

See the prefiled legislation: SB 188 by Deuell and Van de Putte.


Anonymous said...

Grits, read gave DA Reed some coal in her stocking for the needle exchange deal. Under the year in review article. Fitzgerald got some coal also. His revocation rates were out of control.

Rage Judicata said...

If it was within Delisi's authority and therefore OK, why all the hate for Craddick? He has the power to do what he does, therefore there's no abuse of that power?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"hate for Craddick"?

Where do you get that? I actually said Craddick had been relatively decent on criminal justice issues, pointing out that the House "passed quite a bit of important reform legislation during his tenure."

The difference is that by refusing to recognize a motion to vacate the chair, and firing the parliamentarian when she said he couldn't, Craddick DID abuse his authority. He seized power that did NOT belong to him under the rules, while Delisi exercised authority that was clearly within her purview as chair. That's the difference.

el_longhorn said...

Rep. Ortiz has also filed a needle exchange bill - see HB 272.