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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
New Needle Exchange Bill Vetoed
Jim Sanders
October 13, 2003
Sacramento Bee (10.12.03) - Monday, October 13, 2003

On Saturday, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed legislation to make it easier for California cities and counties to develop needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users. With more than 200 bills pending action over the weekend, Davis signed nine measures and vetoed five including the needle exchange proposal, AB 946. Davis rejected Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's request that he not sign any pending bills during his final days in office.

The measure sought to revise a current requirement that allows local governments to operate needle exchange programs only when they have declared a health emergency and renewed it every two weeks. In 1999, Davis signed compromise legislation that, while not technically legalizing needle exchange, barred prosecution under the health emergency proviso.

AB 946, sponsored by Assemblymember Patty Berg (D- Sebastopol), was approved by the Assembly and Senate largely along party lines. More than a dozen needle exchange programs exist in California; nationwide there are more than 110, according to a legislative committee analysis of AB 946.

Opponents of needle exchange object to condoning illicit drug use, while advocates of such programs point out that they can save lives by reducing the spread of AIDS and hepatitis.

"We need to help drug users get off drugs, not give them needles to use them safer," said Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Niello.

His colleague, Sacramento County Supervisor Illa Collin, disagreed. "I think most people feel that if you can stop the spread of hepatitis and AIDS, that's good for the whole community and certainly more humane for the people involved," she commented.

Davis said the bill "undermines the key element that won my support for that [needle exchange] legislation, by eliminating the requirement for a local governing body to make a declaration of a local emergency."