Comprehensive harm reduction bills advance

January 30, 2020

Legislation enacted in 2017 authorized the Commissioner of Health to establish local or regional comprehensive harm reduction programs during a declared public health emergency.  These programs aim to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases and to provide information to individuals struggling with addiction about recovery services, and allow for the provision of sterile hypodermic needles and syringes.  Under the 2017 statutory authorization, the Virginia Department of Health is charged with establishing criteria under which these programs operate, which include the support of the local governing body and local law enforcement.  The 2017 legislation included a sunset clause under which the authorization for the program would expire July 1, 2020.  Two companion bills have been introduced that make no changes to the program, but remove the sunset clause – HB 378 (Rasoul), which has passed the House, and SB 864 (Pillion), which is heading to the Senate floor.

HB 791 (Plum), as introduced, would allow organizations that promote evidence-based methods of reducing health risks to establish comprehensive harm reduction programs, and would remove the requirement for support of the local governing body to be among the criteria in establishing these programs.  VACo unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to provide that operation of such a program would be subject to the approval of the local governing body and that such a program would be required to comply with local zoning and building codes.  Amendments were adopted in subcommittee that appear to provide for approval of a comprehensive harm reduction program by the Commissioner or his or her designee, which would improve the bill; the House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee opted on January 30 to delay consideration for further consideration of the amendments.  The patron has indicated a willingness to amend the bill further to provide for notice to the local governing body.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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