W.Va. needle exchange bill now requires local government approval

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 9:31 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A bill to establish a license application process for needle exchange programs in West Virginia will now require local government approval.

The House of Health and Human Resources Committee met Thursday to go over Senate Bill 334. This was the next step for the bill after passing through the Senate in early March.

During the session, lawmakers introduced an amendment to the bill that would make it so any facility wishing to have a needle exchange program would need to provide a written statement from a majority of the members of the local governing body in which the program is located or is wanting to locate the needle exchange program.

Any program wanting to operate inside city limits would have to get the OK from that specific city council where the site would be placed. If a program wants to operate outside of city limits, it would need approval from the county commission.

“I represent a rural area and I want to make sure the municipality I represent has the opportunity to approve a program that would intent to locate in their area,” said Republican Delegate Evan Worrell, who introduced the amendment and represents Cabell County.

“If we’re going to license it like that it should be under (The Office of Health Facility Licensure & Certification),” said Democratic Delegate Mike Pushkin who represents Kanawha County. “I can’t think of other license health providers that would have to get approval of city councils.”

Delegate Pushkin went on to say that he understands the amendment but does not feel it’s the right choice for the bill.

“I oppose the amendment because, I think it’s going to make it -- an issue that should remain non-political, it’s going to politicize it all over again,” Pushkin said.

Another amendment was also introduced into the committee Thursday that would make it so programs would not need to require West Virginia identification from their clients.

“Kanawha County last year had 35 cases of HIV which is comparable to the 36 (cases) in New York City, which has 9 million residents,” said Caitlin Sussman, a facilitator and social worker at a harm reduction program located at a free clinic in Monongalia County.

Sussman was asked a series of questions by Independent Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, who represents Monongalia County during the committee session. Delegate Fleischauer asked Sussman about record keeping and their requirements on identification.

“We don’t require ID because, we want people to show up and obtain the care,” Sussman said. “Unfortunately the population we’re working with is very scared because they are engaging in illegal activity and so we want to get people in the door.”

Sussman brought up that asking for ID is going to make it unlikely for people to utilize the program.

“We saw that in Charleston in 2018 they changed their regulations, one of which was requiring ID, and they saw the participation go down 50 percent and they saw the HIV outbreak explode,” she said.

Delegate Fleischauer urged the committee to adopt the amendment and to delete the section in the bill that would require all clients to have a West Virginia identification. However, Republican Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, who represents Cabell County, opposed the move.

“This is a compromised piece of legislation, trying to be fair to all parties and I think this is fairly written,” Rohrbach said.

Rohrbach also added that the state of New York has a waiver to make their plan a reimbursable service through their state Medicaid system.

“I think you would have to have an ID to sign up for state Medicaid, (so) I really think this is a fair compromise the way that it’s written and I’m going to urge the members of this committee to reject this amendment,” he said.

The committee rejected the second amendment to delete the section in the bill that requires clients to have a West Virginia identification.

The new version of the bill will now go to the House Judiciary Committee and then to the floor of the full House of Delegates.

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