Advocates Praise Governor Schwarzenegger for Signing Law Easing Rules on Syringe Exchange Programs

Governor Vetoes Second Bill That Would Have Increased Access to Sterile Syringes

San Francisco, CA -- The San Francisco AIDS Foundation has praised Governor Schwarzenegger for signing legislation that eases rules under which cities and counties operate syringe exchange programs aimed at reducing new cases of HIV and hepatitis infection among injection drug users. Advocates expect the new law -- AB 547 authored by Assemblywoman Patty Berg (D-Santa Rosa) -- to lead to an expansion of syringe exchange programs in California, which would both save lives and reduce costs for the state.

In 2000, Governor Davis signed legislation that permitted City Councils and County Boards of Supervisors to authorize the operation of syringe exchange programs in order to reduce the number of new HIV and hepatitis infections. Unfortunately, that legislation required governing bodies to approve a declaration of a public health emergency every two to three weeks in order to operate the exchange program on an ongoing basis. The rule proved to be more than a bureaucratic burden; research revealed that it prevented as many as nine jurisdictions in California from approving exchange programs in order to avoid regular conflict with opponents of those programs.

"Governor Schwarzenegger is to be commended not just for approving this legislation but for working with its advocates and law enforcement opponents to craft the agreement that made it possible," said Dana Van Gorder, Director of State & Local Affairs for the Foundation. "Syringe exchange programs save lives and they save the state the high cost of health care for avoidable cases of HIV and hepatitis. Unfortunately, AIDS and hepatitis are not going away in two or three weeks, so eliminating the requirement that emergency declarations be renewed every two or three weeks is both realistic and compassionate."

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation similar to AB 547 in 2004 due to concerns of law enforcement groups that syringe exchange programs should be subject to periodic review and public comment. In a compromise crafted by the Governor’s office, AB 547 requires that the local governing body hold an annual hearing to review the performance of the program.

At the same time, the Foundation expressed disappointment that the Governor vetoed another bill -- AB 1597 authored by Assembly Member John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) -- that would permit counties to use State HIV prevention funds to purchase syringes for locally-approved exchange programs. However, Van Gorder says the Governor’s office has expressed a willingness to reconsider that legislation in 2006 if it is amended. "With his signature last year on legislation permitting Cities and Counties to authorize the sale of syringes in pharmacies without a prescription, the Governor has established an admirable record on HIV prevention issues," said Van Gorder. "We look forward to working with him to reach agreement that will permit the use of state funds to purchase the most essential tool for preventing HIV transmission to injection drug users: sterile syringes."