August 05, 2007
Bexar DA rains on needle exchange pilot

Why it can be so hard to make progress sometimes: It only takes one reactionary to screw things up.

In a move that could threaten a pilot syringe exchange program for drug addicts in Bexar County, District Attorney Susan Reed has warned local officials that the legislation authorizing it doesn't trump the state's narcotics laws.

"I'm telling them, and I'm telling the police chief, I don't think they have any kind of criminal immunity," Reed said. "That's the bottom line. It has nothing to do with whether they do it or don't do it -- other than if you do it you might find yourself in jail."

Reed said language in the statewide bill created a legal defense to prosecution under Texas laws prohibiting drug paraphernalia. The amendment authorizing the pilot program included no such defense.


[Rep. Ruth Jones] McClendon said she might seek an attorney general's opinion on the matter, which could take as long as six months. That would make it difficult for local authorities to gather enough evidence of the program's success -- should it prove successful -- to show the Legislature when it meets again in 2009. Supporters hope a successful local program will ease passage of a statewide bill next time.

Instead, McClendon said she is considering a meeting with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association for help in seeking a faster resolution.

"The Legislature had a purpose for this program, and the purpose for this legislation clearly was to allow a pilot program to proceed without prosecuting those who are managing the program and those who need the benefits of this," she said.

McClendon pointed to an exchange on the Senate floor between Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who introduced the Medicaid bill, and Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who told her: "I did want to establish some legislative intent on the amendment regarding needle exchange. Is it your intent that, notwithstanding any other statutes, Bexar County will be allowed to legally operate a needle exchange program under the provisions of the bill?"

"That is correct," Nelson replied.

I think the intent is crystal clear, and DA Reed is falling back on a technicality that shouldn't materially affect the program. But if she insists on this stubborn interpretation of the statute, the effect will be to ensure that this pilot project, which has been shown to have many positive effects just about everywhere ir's been tried, doesn't have a chance to prove itself in San Antonio, even though that's quite plainly what the Lege intended. I'm with Grits on this: The police chief and sheriff would be well advised to ignore the DA and make enforcing the paraphernalia law a low priority, at least in this context. Let's hope they do that. Grits has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 05, 2007 to Crime and Punishment