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
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,"
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."