GOV. DAVIS: Agrees to Narrowed Needle Exchange Bill
"Facing an all-but-certain veto" from Gov. Gray Davis, Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael) pulled her bill that would have lifted the ban on publicly operated needle exchanges from Davis' desk in hopes that a "heavily rewritten" version will win his signature, the Sacramento Bee reports. Mazzoni said Wednesday that she had withdrawn AB 518 after Davis' staff made it clear he would veto the measure. She plans to craft a new version of the bill that "would simply guarantee immunity from prosecution for counties that take it upon themselves to declare local health emergencies to operate needle exchanges." Noting that she is "optimistic" that Davis will sign the narrower version if it passes the state Legislature, Mazzoni said, "We've agreed to a much-modified bill ... so a city or county under an emergency health care declaration would be immune from criminal prosecution" (Matthews, 9/2).
Davis indicated that the rewrite would resolve several of his concerns with the measure, including his hesitancy to intervene at the state level. "The state is not sanctioning it," Davis said Wednesday, adding, "We are just not interfering with local decisions." But some local needle exchanges that operate underground or rely on local emergency waivers are concerned that a narrower version will deter new programs. Mazzoni's original bill would have lifted the "cumbersome mechanism that requires cities to issue emergency health declarations" and would have created a comprehensive system to combine needle exchange with treatment for drug addiction. "The lack of legal clarity has had a chilling effect on several communities in California that have previously indicated support in some type of program," said Regina Aragon, policy director for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which supplies more than 2.1 million syringes annually. She added, "it will be very important for any compromise to send a very clear message to these local communities who want to do needle exchange that these programs are both legal and appropriate" (Tempest, Los Angeles Times, 9/2). Davis spokesperson Michael Bustamante said that "it was clear" that the governor would have vetoed the original bill. However, "if the author is willing to amend the bill to very narrowly deal with the issue of prosecuting local employees or agents who are implementing the local declared public health emergency, that is something the governor would look favorably on" (Sacramento Bee, 9/2).
From Davis' Pen
In other executive action last week, Davis signed SB 1185 by state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine). The law will create a uniform definition of genetic characteristics in laws that prohibit discrimination based on a medical condition in the workplace, health plans and life and disability insurance plans. Davis vetoed AB 461, which would have reinstated a previously repealed requirement that the Department of Health Services report to the Legislature findings from its review of Medi-Cal reimbursement rates. Davis wrote in his veto message that the "bill is not necessary since the DHS annually surveys reimbursement rates and this information is readily available to the Legislature when requested," and the bill makes no provision for extra administrative staff (Davis releases).