Policy & Politics
Massachusetts: Over-the-Counter Needles Bill Vetoed
July 3, 2006
In a widely predicted move, Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday vetoed a bill that would legalize over-the-counter sales of hypodermic needles in Massachusetts. Romney rejected the idea that Massachusetts should join 47 other states in promoting clean needles to control the spread of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. Instead, he and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey said halting a spike in heroin use is a far more pressing issue for the state.
"We cannot in good conscience say that we should make needles more available to heroin addicts," said Healey, who has made the syringe bill an issue in her campaign for governor. "And we cannot say that we are sending the right message to our kids when we make needles sold over the counter a legal activity."
"I think the Legislature has taken the kind of approach that is laudable, which is they're looking to do good things for the people of Massachusetts," said Romney. "But we believe ... that some of the unintended consequences would be more severe than the benefit that would be achieved by signing the bill."
Critics blasted Romney for his opposition on public safety grounds when numerous law enforcement officials, including former Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole and district attorneys of Middlesex and Suffolk counties, support the bill. Rep. Peter J. Koutoujian (D-Waltham), lead sponsor of the bill, called the veto "wrong-headed and disappointing."
The administration provided charts showing that fatal heroin overdoses in the state nearly tripled from 1997 to 2003, while the number of HIV/AIDS transmissions through drug use dropped by more than half. But Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, said the administration used selective data that only pertained to those who are drug users themselves, excluding HIV infections acquired or transmitted by IDUs' sexual partners.
The Legislature is expected to override Romney's veto and make the bill, which passed by comfortable margins in both chambers, law. Ann Dufresne, a spokesperson for Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, said the Senate would take up the override as soon as the House sends it over.
07.01.06; Scott Helman