Pubdate: Wed, 13 Sep 2006
Source: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)
Copyright: 2006 Courier-Post
Author: Gregory J. Volpe, Gannett State Bureau
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Trenton -- Following a long and controversial route, two bills  that 
would give intravenous drug users access to clean  needles may be 
approved by the Senate health committee  next week.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens  Committee will 
meet Monday to consider a pair of bills  that would allow anyone to 
buy syringes without a  prescription and allow municipalities to set 
up needle  exchange programs.

Needle exchange has been pushed by state lawmakers for  more than a 
decade but hasn't been able to get through  the Legislature, leaving 
New Jersey as the only state  without a program despite the support 
of Gov. Jon S.  Corzine, Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-West 
Orange, and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts, D-Camden.

Though Democrats control the committee, five to three,  Sen. Ronald 
Rice, D-Newark, has been a vocal critic of  needle exchange, leaving 
the measure deadlocked in the  committee.

But another opponent of needle exchange, Sen. Robert  Singer, 
R-Lakewood, said he would give the Democrats  his vote Monday, with 
no recommendation for passage in  the Senate, just so the matter can 
be debated by the  full Senate, where its fate is doubtful.

"There are some pieces of legislation that are just  important enough 
that the whole Senate should take up,"  Singer said. "The committee 
system is to hear the  testimony, to make a recommendation. I think 
it sends a  very strong message when it comes out with 
no  recommendation from the committee."

Among Republican opponents on the health committee is  U.S. Senate 
candidate Thomas Kean Jr., R-Westfield, who  said he will vote 
against the bills Monday.

"Number one, it undermines law enforcement activities,"  Kean said. 
"Secondly, I think what we need to focus on  is treatment and 
education initiatives rather than  those initiatives that enable drug 
dependents'  behaviors."

Kean' opponent, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-Hoboken, an  appointed 
incumbent seeking a full term in the U.S.  Senate, supports needle 
exchange programs.

A leading needle-exchange advocate said the issue  wouldn't factor in 
November's election.

"I'm not sure if it's on the radar in terms of a  federal election," 
said Roseanne Scotti, director of  the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman