Needle-exchange bill has new life

March 16, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

The Maryland Senate is expected to reconsider a bill today that would allow Baltimore to begin a pilot needle-exchange program. The bill was defeated late Monday night after receiving only 23 votes, one short of the constitutional majority required to pass the Senate.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, however, has asked the Senate to reconsider the bill.

One of the senators absent for Monday's vote, Beatrice Tignor, a Prince George's County Democrat, is expected to vote for it the second time around.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said he expected the Senate to pass the bill. An identical needle-exchange measure is pending in the House of Delegates.

Monday night's vote came as a surprise because the three most powerful people in state government -- the governor, the speaker of the House and the Senate president -- have all voiced support for the bill.

Yesterday, however, the governor appeared to distance himself somewhat from it.

"I supported it because the mayor wanted it," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said.

If enacted, the bill would allow Baltimore to open several clinics as early as this summer to accommodate 750 to 1,000 intravenous drug addicts.

Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's health commissioner, has said the program could prevent 13 cases of HIV -- the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS -- in the first year alone.

Monday night's debate appeared to break down along regional and ideological lines, with some senators arguing that the program would only encourage drug abuse and criminal activity.

The vote Monday visibly angered Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who, for the third time in three years, is asking the legislature to allow a needle-exchange program.

Mr. Schmoke said he did not know why the bill failed, but added, "I think there was an awful lot of election [year] rhetoric."

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