Missouri House votes to support needle exchange programs to fight IV drug abuse, disease

The Missouri House has proposed easing state law to allow organizations to give clean needles to users of illegal intravenous drugs.  Backers say the bill will help combat a potential outbreak in diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C caused by the sharing of used needles, and will get more people into drug treatment, but not all lawmakers are convinced.

Representative Holly Rehder (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Needle exchange or syringe access programs already exist in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.  Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) said those programs are operating in violation of state law regarding drug paraphernalia, but local jurisdictions allow them to operate because of the impact they have.

Legislation sponsored by Rehder, House Bill 1620, would relax state law to allow those programs to operate and to expand to other regions in the state.

Rehder said people who use those programs to get needles are 5-times more likely to get into drug treatment because the programs put them in contact with medical professionals.

“That becomes the medical professional in their life, so they go and they get a ten-cent needle but they get so much more than that,” said Rehder.  “They get educational material explaining the harm of what they’re doing.  They get a person who’s greeting them where they’re at in life who’s explaining there are options for you.  We have places for you to go that we can get you into to help get you past this addiction, and so that becomes a relationship.”

Lake St. Louis Republican Justin Hill said as a former police officer and drug task force detective he supports the legislation.  He said law enforcement officers are always conscious, when dealing with individuals abusing intravenous drugs, to look out for needles.

“Use extreme caution because you don’t want to be pricked by what?  A dirty needle.  We want clean needles on the street because of the instances where if an officer gets pricked they don’t want to have to take tests for the next two years of their lives every month – go get tested for HIV, go get tested for AIDS, go get tested for Hep C,” said Hill.

Some Republicans who are former law enforcement officers oppose Rehder’s bill.  Cedar Hill representative Shane Roden, a reserve deputy sheriff, called the idea “stupid.”

“We’re not fixing the problem.  We’re just creating Band-Aids.  We’re not actually coming down with any solutions,” said Roden.

Representative Shane Roden (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Roden argued that with HB 1620, “We’re literally going to put the needle in their arm.”

Still the proposal has broad support including from Democrats.  St. Louis City representative Peter Merideth followed-up Rowden’s statements by asking Rehder, “Do you expect this to cure the problem of opioid addiction in Missouri?”

“No, and no one other than that gentlemen has even insinuated that this is a fix for the problem.  We all, that have stood up, have said it’s a tool in our toolbox,” Rehder replied.

Backers also say the bill will save the state money in costs to Medicaid of treating people who contract conditions like HIV and Hepatitis C by sharing needles.

The House voted 135-13 to send the legislation to the Senate.  In previous years one similar proposal was voted out of one House committee but moved no further through the process.

Missouri House votes a second time to ease state’s motorcycle helmet law

The state House has voted twice this session to relax Missouri’s law requiring that helmets be worn by motorcycle riders.

Representative Shane Roden offered an amendment to a Senate bill to ease Missouri's motorcycle helmet law.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Shane Roden offered an amendment to a Senate bill to ease Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Members voted earlier this month to pass House Bill 576, and on Tuesday voted for an amendment to Senate Bill 8, both containing the same language.  They would allow riders 21 and older who have completed a motorcycle safety course or who have had their motorcycle license for at least two years to ride without a helmet if they have insurance.

Missouri legislators have for years debated easing the state’s helmet law.  While both measures received favorable votes, the issue stirs passion in both proponents and opponents, and both sides of the issue are bipartisan.

Rolla representative and doctor Keith Frederick (R) said he generally, “doesn’t want the government telling people what to do,” but riders without helmets could cost taxpayers a lot of money.

“Somebody has a bad accident and they have a head injury that incapacitates them for years, it’s … I think the gentleman from the White District in the past has pointed out the lifetime cost is average about $4.5-million,” said Frederick.

Kansas City Democrat Ingrid Burnett said she could not support the amendment after the death of a close family friend.

“He hated wearing a motorcycle helmet but he wore his helmet when he was in Missouri because Missouri had a helmet law, but when he was traveling back to Oakland and going through a state where there was no law, he had a serious accident and lost his life,” said Burnett.

The amendment to SB 8 was offered by Cedar Hill representative Shane Roden, who said he rides motorcycles himself.  He said he would wear a helmet most of the time even if the law is changed, but he wants the freedom to ride without it.

He argued that nearly half of fatal motorcycle accidents involved riders that had more than the legal limit of alcohol in their systems, “so if we want to talk about reducing fatalities maybe we need to start enforcing DWIs a little bit stronger, so I would say if you really want to make an effective reduction in deaths, maybe we need to go on the campaign about riding while intoxicated or buzzed driving.”

Representative Keith Frederick opposes proposals this year to relax Missouri's motorcycle helmet law.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Keith Frederick opposes proposals offered again this year by fellow Republicans to relax Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Joseph Republican Delus Johnson said as a motorcycle rider, he feels he is “grouped in” by the state’s helmet law with those who ride while intoxicated or ride recklessly.

“Why am I being punished?” asked Johnson.  “Why am I grouped in with these drunks that are riding motorcycles that probably don’t have a motorcycle license, they don’t have motorcycle insurance.  If they’re not wearing a helmet and they get in a wreck they’re breaking the law anyway.  Why are we grouped in with those lawbreakers?”

Supporters also argue that allowing people to ride in Missouri without helmets would increase tourism.  They say many riders and groups deliberately avoid the state because of its helmet law.

HB 576, sponsored by High Ridge Republican John McCaherty, is awaiting a vote by a Senate committee.  SB 8 has been sent back to the Senate with several amendments that that chamber must consider.

House endorses tougher penalties for crimes against law enforcement

The state House is close to proposing greater penalties for those who commit certain crimes against law enforcement officers.

Representative Marsha Haefner (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Marsha Haefner (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 57 aims to increase by one degree the penalty for voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, first- or second-degree property damage, unlawful use of a weapon, rioting, or first-degree trespassing, when those crimes are committed against a law enforcement officer.

It’s sponsored by St. Louis Republican Marsha Haefner, who said she hoped the bill would deter the committing of crimes against law enfrocment.

“It is intended to show meaningful and additional support for our officers across the state.  It is also to express the level of intolerance Missourians have for those who commit crimes against the very people who have taken an oath to protect and serve us and protect our property,” said Haefner.

Some Republicans expressed reservations about the proposal.  Cedar Hill Representative Shane Roden, a firefighter and reserve deputy sheriff, said he was not supportive of changes from an earlier version that would have increased penalties in crimes committed against other first responders, including firefighters.  He spoke of an attack on his wife, who was attacked in the back of an ambulance two years ago.

“Our men and women from the fire service, from the ambulance side of things, are just as likely to end up getting attacked as the first responders,” said Roden.

Roden attempted to change the bill to extend to all first responders, but his amendment was defeated.

Kansas City Democrat Brandon Ellington believes the House shouldn’t be debating this issue when he and many Democrats believe it hasn’t done enough to respond to the 2014 shooting by a Ferguson police officer of Michael Brown or the unrest that followed.

“We haven’t had one officer that’s been shot down in the street and left there for six hours.  Not one.  But we’ve had other people of other colors that’s been left in the streets for over six hours and we can’t work on any kind of accountability legislation,” said Ellington.  “The only thing we want to do is give increased protections to those that aren’t in jeopardy.”

St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway is married to a retired police officer.  She said the bill would reinforce the legislature’s commitment to law enforcement.

“It’s not that the people that were out there ten or twelve years ago are any more dangerous, it’s that they are emboldened,” said Conway.  “I don’t remember the last time, before the incident in New York, that people walked up and shot two officers sitting in a squad car.  I don’t remember a time before when a peaceful march was taking place in Dallas and someone opened fire only to kill police officers.”

Representatives Brandon Ellington (left) and Bruce Franks, Jr. (right) stand on either side of Representative Tommie Pierson, Jr.   (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representatives Brandon Ellington (left) and Bruce Franks, Jr. (right) stand on either side of Representative Tommie Pierson, Jr. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, cited two of his family members who were law enforcement officers that were shot and killed.  He said for that and other reasons, it is difficult to oppose House Bill 57.

“You never want anybody to think that you don’t care about law enforcement or you don’t feel that law enforcement should be protected each and every day and they shouldn’t return home.  That’s not my objective and that’s not where my heart is,” said Franks.  “We have measures in place … to put more into that, it doesn’t deter.  It won’t keep officers safe.  Nobody’s going to think about the fact that they have this enhanced penalty in the back of their head when they go do something horrendous to an officer, which is sad, but when somebody makes that decision, they’ve already made that decision.”

Kimberling City Republican Don Phillips, a retired Highway Patrol trooper, said he has no problem with the bill treating law enforcement like they are special.

“I can tell you when you get up in the morning and you get ready to go to work and the first thing you do is strap on a bullet proof vest, you strap on a – in my case – a .40-calibur Glock automatic and put 47 rounds of ammunition around your waist, you’ve got handcuffs with you, you’ve got an expandable baton, you’ve got another baton in your car, you’ve got a 12-gauge shotgun that’s loaded for riot situations if it comes down to that, you’ve got pepper mace, Mister Speaker when those are the tools of your trade, you’re not a normal citizen.  You’re a special person in society.  You’re a person that represents our law and order,” said Phillips.

The House also gave initial approval to House Bills 302 and 228, which would create a Blue Alert System.  It would be meant to help identify, find, and apprehend anyone suspected of seriously injuring or killing a law enforcement officer.  The system would send out messages over television and radio about those suspected of such crimes.

House Bills 302, 228, and 57 all need one more favorable vote to be sent to the state Senate.