January 7, 2011
In the current political climate, Texas harm-reduction proponents believe prospects are poor for passing legislation that would allow needle-exchange programs (NEPs) to operate legally in the state.
"Trying to get a bill like this might be a little more difficult," said Randall Ellis, senior director of government relations at Legacy Community Health Services in Houston. "We know the House has shifted to the right. This is traditionally something the far right has been opposed to."
In 2009, state Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) introduced NEP legislation that passed the Senate but died in the House. Deuell, a physician, said he will not introduce similar legislation this year. The Senate would probably approve any favorable NEP legislation the House sent over, he said, though such passage is unlikely.
State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio) is sponsoring legislation to allow counties with more than 300,000 residents to operate NEPs, including through local governments or private groups. State drug paraphernalia laws would remain in effect, though the new bill would allow an individual to argue in court that a syringe was obtained lawfully through an NEP. It would be left to local prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.
In Houston, Legacy could operate an NEP for about $250,000 each year, according to an estimate by the Access Project, which advocates for NEPs in Texas. Local and private sources, rather than state revenues, would be used to fund the program.
"I cannot in good conscience balance the public policy contradiction in waging a concerted effort against illegal drug use while providing the tools used in taking these illegal drugs," said state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls). Gov. Rick Perry "remains opposed to a program that would create an incentive to continue illegal drug use," said his spokesperson, Lucy Nashed.