Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Syringe exchange bill approved and headed to the Senate floor

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services held a public hearing today and reported the committee substitute for Senate Bill 188 favorably from the committee on a vote of five ayes, one nay, with three senators absent. Voting in favor of CSSB 188 were Senator Nelson, Chair of the Committee, and Senators Deuell, Nichols, Shapleigh, and Uresti. Senator Huffman voted against and Senators Patrick, West and Zaffirini were absent.

Senator Deuell explained that his substitute language simply changes the exception to prosecution to a defense to prosecution and the substitute language exactly matches the bill the Senate passed in 2007.

Testifying in favor of the bill on behalf of the Texas Medical Association was Dr. Janet Realini, a family physician from San Antonio. Dr. Realini spoke about the medical evidence supporting the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, and shared a moving story about having to tell one of her patients, a young mother of two she described as an innocent victim, that she tested positive for HIV. Dr. Realini implored the committee members to get the bill passed to help get injection drug users into treatment and keep them from infecting their families.

Next to testify was retired Bexar County Constable Jimmy Willborn, also a retired San Antonio police officer and former narcotics officer and supervisor. Constable Willborn said that while working in law enforcement some of his partners and employees, and EMS workers who he knew, were stuck with needles when they were executing search warrants and searching or helping individuals. He emphasized that syringe exchange programs will make it better for police officers because the programs will help decrease the chance of a disease being passed on to an officer.

Groups who registered in favor of SB 188 but did not testify include:
Texas Impact
ACLU of Texas
Texas Pediatric Society
Legacy Community Health Services
Scott & White Center for Healthcare Policy

To watch the hearing visit the Senate RealMedia Video Archives page on the Texas Senate website, and click on part two of the hearing on March 3. The fiscal note and bill analysis are available on Texas Legislature Online, but the Committee Substitute has not been posted as of this time.

Those who testified and registered in favor of CSSB 188, and of course those senators who voted in favor, have helped Texas move toward a sensible solution. When the federal government begins to fund syringe exchange programs, Texas should not be left out.

Learn more about the issue here.

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