Pubdate: Wed, 27 Oct 2004
Source: Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ)
Copyright: 2004 South Jersey Publishing Co.
Author: Pete McAleer, Statehouse Bureau
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Atlantic City, 2 Other Towns Await Approval

TRENTON - Citing a public-health emergency, Gov. James E. McGreevey
issued an executive order Tuesday that empowers Atlantic City and two
other municipalities to set up needle-exchange programs to stem the
spread of HIV and other viruses transmitted through intravenous drug

AIDS activists, who have pushed for changes in New Jersey's
restrictive needle-possession laws for more than a decade, applauded
the move. Opponents accused McGreevey of orchestrating an end run
around the state Legislature and predicted the order would not hold up
in court.

McGreevey, who used his executive-order powers a month ago to change
the state's campaign-finance laws, said he became convinced he needed
to break a legislative logjam in order to implement a health measure
proved to stem the spread of AIDS.

"The evidence is incontrovertible," McGreevey said. "We have resisted
the evidence at a high cost."

The order, which was still being completed in the hours leading up to
Tuesday's news conference, allows municipalities with high rates of
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, that was contracted through
injection-drug use to apply to the state Health Department to start
programs that swap used needles for clean ones.

It would remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2005 - a little more than one
month after the next gubernatorial election.

Municipalities would have to pass an ordinance supporting the program
and demonstrate that participants would have sufficient access to
health-care facilities, social services and drug treatment.

Atlantic City and Camden are expected to be two of the three
municipalities. Both have already passed ordinances approving needle

Atlantic City Health and Human Services Director Ron Cash said he
expected to send an application to the state "immediately." Atlantic
City has the highest HIV infection rate in New Jersey. One in 40
residents carry the virus, with more than half of those infected
contracting the virus through intravenous drug use.

Atlantic City's efforts to start needle exchange were blocked by the
McGreevey administration earlier this year and then later denied by a

Cash learned of the executive order two hours before the signing and
immediately headed to Trenton.

"We worked so hard, we're kind of excited about it," Cash said. "We're
thankful the governor has reconsidered, whatever his reason is."

The push from Atlantic City and Camden to start needle exchange
revived an issue that had all but died in the Legislature. Assembly
Majority Leader Joe Roberts, a Democrat who represents Camden,
introduced a pair of bills in September that permitted both
municipally-approved needle exchanges and the limited pharmaceutical
sale of needles without a prescription.

Both bills passed the Assembly. When they stalled in the Senate Health
Committee two weeks ago, McGreevey began examining the possibility of
an executive order.

Health Commissioner Dr. Clifton Lacy said he began working on the
order last week. It underwent several revisions in the past 72 hours.
At one point, the order would have included Atlantic City and
Pleasantville among five needle-exchange programs in the state.

Left out of the drafting process was Attorney General Peter C. Harvey.
Asked if the attorney general was usually involved in the drafting of
such orders, spokesman Paul Loriquet said, "When it pertains to
potentially criminal matters, yes."

Although the order is rooted in a health emergency, it requires
cooperation from law enforcement. The order does not legalize the
possession of syringes but instead states "it shall be the duty of
every person in this state or doing business in this state ... to
cooperate fully in all matters concerning this emergency."

John Tomicki, executive director of the New Jersey League of American
Families, said he plans to challenge the order in court, using the
decision against Atlantic City as case law. State Sen. Ron Rice, a
Democrat from Newark who helped block the needle-exchange bills in the
Health Committee, said he is also considering filing a lawsuit.

"It is most unfortunate that Gov. McGreevey will use his last days to
promulgate something that will lead to the demise of the urban
community and especially women and minorities," Rice said. "This is a
sad legacy to leave."

The McGreevey administration will argue that the governor has broad
powers to declare a public-health emergency, far broader than a
municipality such as Atlantic City. There is also precedent for such
an order - in 1992, then Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell declared a
health emergency to start a needle-exchange program in the city.

New York passed needle exchange that same year. Before Tuesday's
order, New Jersey and Delaware were the only two states that allowed
no access to clean needles.

"I simply cannot think of a more appropriate reason to use his power
of executive order," Roberts said. "Although I would like this to work
its way through the Legislature, I applaud Gov. McGreevey for saying
enough is enough." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake