Disease control, harm reduction, needle exchange--we've seen this issue every session since I've been working for Texas AIDS Network. Some really fine folks have carried these bills in both the House and the Senate. Very often, the bills have died in committee, especially in the House. The Senate has been a little more collegial, allowing bills to be voted out of committee, but then they mysteriously never seem to get to the floor for debate and vote.
SB 127 was heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday afternoon. Several folks testified in support of the bill. No one spoke against it. Senator Jane Nelson chaired the hearing and was quite engaged in the issue. She asked several pertinent questions and seemed to have an honest interest in trying to figure out a way to support the bill. Her biggest concern was not the "moral" issue of needle exchange but the "message" issue, i.e., her concern that supporting needle exchange would send the wrong message to our youth with the apparent implication being that drug use is okay because we are giving needles to addicts and allowing them to continue to break the law by using illegal drugs. Or something like that.
Chairman Nelson was about to leave the bill pending in committee, since a quorum was not present, when several Senators began trickling in through various doors of the chamber. Senator Lindsay had marshalled his votes--and the bill passed.
The next challenge is to get the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.