Pubdate: Tue, 14 Dec 2004
Source: Star-Ledger (NJ)
Copyright: 2004 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Author: Susan K. Livio, Star-Ledger Staff
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Saying former Gov. James E. McGreevey exceeded his authority when he
issued an executive order permitting three cities to provide drug
addicts with syringes, four state lawmakers went to court yesterday
seeking to stop the experimental programs from getting off the ground.

With needle-exchange programs banned by law and an effort to
decriminalize them stalled in the Senate, McGreevey issued the
executive order in October, citing a public health emergency. The
bills would have decriminalized syringe possession and allowed
communities to operate their own needle swaps to prevent the spread of

By issuing the order, McGreevey "overstepped his responsibilities and
constitutional powers," Sen. Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union) said during a
news conference in Trenton with the other lawmakers who filed the
lawsuit: Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Assemblymen Joseph Pennacchio
(R-Morris) and Eric Munoz (R-Union).

"We understand that needle-exchange programs are by their very nature
controversial," Kean said. "That is exactly the kind of issue best
left to the living democracy of the Senate and the Assembly. ... It is
too important for one man's opinion to prevail without the checks and
balances provided by the Constitution."

According to the lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Mercer County, a
governor does not have the power to permit communities to violate
state laws. And while the spread of HIV among addicts is a serious
concern, it does not meet the legal definition of an emergency, the
lawsuit said.

The lawsuit uses points raised in a legal opinion issued last month by
Albert Porroni, counsel and executive director of the nonpartisan
Office of Legislative Services. In an opinion written at the request
of lawmakers, Porroni questioned why, if an emergency exists
statewide, the order affects only three cities. He also questioned
McGreevey's definition of an emergency, writing: "The existence of the
multitude of HIV/AIDS cases for decades belies the existence of an
emergency now."

Opponents of needle-exchange programs, including former Gov. Christie
Whitman, have successfully blocked them in New Jersey for more than a
decade, contending that giving an addict a syringe is akin to
condoning illegal drug use.

Supporters of needle exchange say New Jersey, with about half of all
HIV and AIDS cases tied to injection drug use, is woefully out of step
with the rest of the country. New Jersey and Delaware are the only two
states in the nation that outlaw both needle exchange and needle
possession without a doctor's prescription.

"People will die as a result of this litigation," said Roseanne
Scotti, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the chief lobbyist for
needle exchange. "Every day, five more people in New Jersey are
infected with HIV, and almost half of those infections result from the
sharing of dirty needles."

Camden and Atlantic City, which passed ordinances creating
needle-exchange programs in the summer only to be struck down by a
legal challenge, could be ready to start in January, Scotti said. Both
cities have expressed interest in the state program. A third community
has not yet volunteered to participate, said state Health Department
spokeswoman Marilyn Riley.

Acting Gov. Richard Codey said yesterday the lawsuit would not deter
him from implementing the executive order. Filing the lawsuit "is
their individual right," he said. Riley said officials are drafting
program guidelines.

Staff writer Jeff Whelan contributed to this report
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