Monday, May 04, 2009

Needle exchange bill reaches milestone Tuesday

Legislation to authorize local-control needle exchange programs will reach a milestone Tuesday when SB 188 finally receives a hearing in the House Public Health committee. The previous chair, Dianne Delisi, had singlehandedly blocked the bill in 2007 after a bipartisan supermajority of senators approved it. But this year's Chair Lois Kolkhorst greenlighted a hearing and promised sponsors the legislation will get a committee vote.

A majority of Public Health Committee members already voted for needle exchange once. The House had a vote in 2007 on an amendment by Rep. McLendon to allow a needle exchange pilot in Bexar County that tells us a lot about the bill's likely reception on committee. Here's how the committee members voted on that 2007 amendment:
Ayes: Naishtat; Coleman; Gonzales; Hopson; McReynolds, King, S;

Nays: Laubenberg, Truitt

Absent: Kolkhorst; Davis, J;

Present not voting: Zerwas
Though Rep. Kolkhorst wasn't there for the 2007 vote, the fact that the chair decided to give the bill a hearing shows she's at least open to the idea, and if she allows the committee to vote on the bill, by this count the votes are there to pass it.

Two other notable, key "aye" votes for needle exchange from 2007 pop out from the list: Calendars Committee Chairman Brian McCall and House Speaker Joe Strauss. That makes me hopeful SB 188 will make it to the House floor for a vote if it clears the Public Health Committee.

Needle exchange isn't a cure all, but it helps at the margins to prevent disease, reduce public health costs and make it more likely program participants access drug treatment. According to a fact sheet from the Texas Department of State Health Services, found via the blog Sifting the Haystack:
  • More than 14,000 Texans got HIV when they were injecting drug users.
  • About 240,000 cases of hepatitis C in Texas are linked to sharing syringes.
  • Preventing 100 new cases of HIV would save $38,000,000 in medical costs.
  • Syringe exchange could prevent 100 new cases of HIV per year in Texas.
  • A study comparing 81 cities found the HIV infection rate decreased 5.8% per year in cities with SEPs and increased by 5.9% in cities without SEPs.
SB 188 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday, May 5, 2009, at 8:00 AM in E2.012 in the Texas Capitol. Go here to watch it live when once it begins.

See prior, related Grits posts:

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