Syringe services bill amended, advanced

Senators amended and gave second-round approval Feb. 14 to a bill that would protect certain programs from prosecution for drug paraphernalia offenses when distributing clean, hypodermic needles to community members.

Sen. Megan Hunt
Sen. Megan Hunt

LB307, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would allow local jurisdictions to permit public and behavioral health organizations to implement Syringe Services Programs by exempting staff and participants from drug paraphernalia prosecution.

SSPs provide many services, Hunt said, including referrals to substance abuse treatment programs, care for infectious diseases, overdose prevention, education on safe injection practices and supplies to prevent overdoses.

La Vista Sen. John Arch offered an amendment during select file debate that he said would incorporate changes suggested by the Nebraska Medical Association to “tighten” the bill’s language and ensure that such programs work as envisioned.

Among other provisions, the amendment would specify that only the governing body of a political subdivision could approve an SSP and would prohibit a county ordinance from authorizing a program for a municipality within its borders. Arch said the language would ensure local control.

The amendment also outlines minimum requirements that a program must meet, including providing naloxone, or information on where it can be obtained, and referral information for mental health and other social services. In addition, an approved SSP could not be located within 500 feet of a child care program, school or youth center or a public library, community center or swimming pool.

Arch said communities could place further restrictions on syringe programs, but that he wanted the state to provide minimum guidelines. As amended, he said, the bill would help communities address the reality of addiction.

“We all would like to see drug abuse go away. It’s a scourge,” Arch said. “[But] it is not going to go away — it’s something we have to deal with.”

Hunt supported the amendment, which she said would codify best practices for syringe programs. Nebraska has been a national leader in confronting the opioid crisis, she said, and LB307 would continue the state’s tradition of creating public policy on addiction issues that is informed by experts in the field.

Following adoption of the Arch amendment on a 31-3 vote, lawmakers advanced LB307 to final reading by voice vote.

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