New Jersey Senate Likely Not To Vote on Clean Needle Bills Before Gov. McGreevey Resigns
Two bills that would provide injection drug users with greater access to clean needles in an attempt to curb the spread of HIV in New Jersey were "dealt a serious setback" on Thursday when they stalled in the state Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, the Newark Star-Ledger reports (Hester, Newark Star-Ledger, 10/15). The New Jersey Assembly passed the two bills last week. The first -- the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act (A 3256) -- would allow cities to sponsor local needle-exchange programs that are affiliated with hospitals, clinics or health departments and offer additional health-related services. The other bill (A 3257) would allow individuals over age 18 to purchase from a pharmacy up to 10 needles without a prescription. Currently, New Jersey is one of only four states that require a doctor's prescription for needle purchases and one of only two states that bans both nonprescription needle sales and needle-exchange programs. Gov. James McGreevey (D) has promised to sign both bills if they reach his desk before he resigns (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/8). However, the "strident opposition" to the bills in the committee may prevent the full Senate from voting on the bills before McGreevey's scheduled Nov. 15 resignation, according to the Star-Ledger. Sen. Joseph Vitale (D), who sponsored both bills and also chairs the Senate Health Committee, delayed the vote on the bills until at least Nov. 8 because he was unable to secure the five votes needed to approve the legislation. "The issue has clearly divided people," Vitale said, adding, "It has always been about getting enough votes to pass it. Sometimes it takes people awhile to get there. I want to give all my colleagues plenty of time to hear about the issue. It is not just ideological issues; there are questions about the legislation. It is not something you should rush." The next voting session for the full Senate is scheduled for Dec. 6, according to the Star-Ledger.
McGreevey Still 'Committed'
However, McGreevey is "committed to working with the Legislature to secure passage," according to his spokesperson Micah Rasmussen. "The governor will continue to make the case that the legislation saves lives," Rasmussen said, adding, "He is going to identify opportunities like this until he leaves office. It has nothing to do with legacy; it has to do with governing." Senate President Richard Codey (D) -- who will serve as acting governor upon McGreevey's resignation -- has not taken a position on the legislation, according to spokesperson Kelly Heck. She said that Codey will not "intercede to push" the bills forward in the Senate before the governor's resignation and that the legislation's "future would have to be decided in the health committee," the Star-Ledger reports. Currently, three senators in the committee support the legislation, while four oppose it and one is undecided, according to the Star-Ledger.
HIV Assistance Bill Passed
Although A 3256 and A 3257 failed to make progress in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, the committee approved a companion measure to the two bills, the Star-Ledger reports. The committee on Thursday voted to approve a measure that would allocate $6 million to provide low-income HIV/AIDS patients with medication. The measure also would allocate $1.3 million to provide HIV-positive people in the state with health insurance and $2.7 million to finance rapid HIV tests (Newark Star-Ledger, 10/15).