Bill Would have Given Local Governments Greater Control of Existing Public Health Dollars <br>
SACRAMENTO- Ignoring the urging of county governments and medical experts, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed Assembly Bill 1597 by John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), a bill to control the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases.
AB 1597 would have allowed local governments to use state HIV prevention funds to purchase sterile syringes for locally authorized needle exchange programs. Most states that allow needle exchange programs also use state funds for this purpose, including those with Republican governors like New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
"It doesn't make sense to say, 'use state dollars to pay the rent, pay the light bill, pay the staff, but don't pay for syringes,'" said Glenn Backes, health policy director for Drug Policy Alliance, who cosponsored the bill with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. "It's the syringe that saves the drug injector from infection, nothing else."
The bill did not authorize new money, nor did it mandate counties to purchase syringes. It moved the decision to use existing HIV prevention funds to the counties.
Schwarzenegger surprised many when he signed SB 1159 last year to allow pharmacies to sell syringes to adults without a prescription pursuant to local authorization. His veto of AB 1597 raises questions as to his commitment to AIDS prevention programs generally and to local control of public health dollars specifically.
"He takes one step to the left and then one to the right trying to please everyone, he looks like a typical politician," said Backes. "Tragically, this type of political dance means death and suffering for California families."
Since syringes cost less about ten cents wholesale, the cost benefits of this bill would have been enormous. Treating just one HIV infection averages more than $150,000. Most ex-drug users infected by a dirty syringe end up receiving treatment paid for by state and county governments. "A real fiscal conservative would have signed it," said Backes.
County governments and health officers, as well as several AIDS service organizations, and the Drug Policy Alliance supported the bill. No opposition was recorded in committee analyses.