Needle Plan Proponent Reroutes Legislation

Needle Plan Proponent Reroutes Legislation
Posted by FoM on March 22, 2000 at 06:25:53 PT
By Paul Schwartzman, Washington Post Staff Writer
Source: Washington Post
County Council members supporting legislation to create a needle exchange program in Prince George's County are conceding that they face a struggle to persuade colleagues to back the plan.
"Clearly, the council is divided, and I'd like to see if we can come up with more unity," said council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood), who supports the bill that would allow intravenous drug users to trade dirty needles for clean ones at county health facilities.The council's health committee had been scheduled to begin hearings on the legislation tomorrow. But Shapiro, the council's vice chairman, has instead ordered that the entire council review the proposal and hear testimony from experts. No date has been set.Shapiro said the change was intended to give the council "the flexibility to study this issue in greater detail. I hope it will allow us to look at the issue with objectivity and address any concerns about potential negative impacts."But council sources said that Shapiro rerouted the legislation in part because he feared that it would stall in the health committee. The committee's chairwoman, Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie), has expressed opposition to the proposal.The legislation, which was introduced by council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) last month, has provoked criticism from opponents who fear that it sends the message that Prince George's endorses drug use.But the proposal also has been lauded by health experts who argue that it is proven means for curtailing the spread of infectious disease. In Baltimore, health officials report that the number of new HIV cases has declined by 35 percent since the city's needle exchange program began in 1994.Two of Prince George's nine council members--Hendershot and Shapiro--support the proposal, while two members--Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) and Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington)--oppose it. The council's remaining members have not taken a formal position.Council member M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom), who is considering running for county executive in 2002, said he is leaning toward opposing the legislation, if only because he has heard complaints from his constituents. "Someone would have to show me a compelling reason to vote for it," Estepp said. "I've had 25 calls from constituents, and I get hit hard about it at meetings I go to. Any time you have a mixed reaction, it's probably not a good idea to go forward until you have consensus. How's it going to work?" By Paul SchwartzmanWashington Post Staff WriterWednesday, March 22, 2000; Page M04  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Officials Considering Needle Exchange
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