By Rose Hoban
It happens every year at the legislature: Once lawmakers at the General Assembly have a final spending deal, bills that have been stuck in committee and that may have been used as bargaining chips during budget negotiations start appearing in committee meetings.
One of those meetings was Wednesday’s session of the Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee, where more than 300 bills are currently parked. That morning’s confab saw lawmakers working through 13 pieces of legislation, with amendments and replacement language in a number of the bills.
One such bill that’s been waiting for action is House Bill 712, which has been sitting in the rules committee since April.
The bill would allow the State Bureau of Investigation to work with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition to create a pilot project to make it easier to dispose of used hypodermic needles and syringes that may have been dirtied by people using heroin and other injectable drugs.
“The problem now is that if you agree on a Saturday afternoon to go out and pick up old needles in the park to help your town clean up, you’re technically in violation because you’re in possession of a needle that may have residue in it,” Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point) told the committee as he introduced the bill.
The bill would allow someone to avoid prosecution for turning in used needles with drug residue in them, whether they’re a person cleaning up a park or someone who has used the needle to inject drugs.
“We think this is a good way to protect the public,” Faircloth said.
The bill states that the measure is an attempt to reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis, among other blood-borne diseases.
The two-county pilot would create secure places for needle disposals, along with providing information about drug-treatment counseling and referral services.
“Because heroin death have quadrupled in the past five years, North Carolina is facing a crisis of what to do with the syringes left over from injection drug use,” said the Harm Reduction Coalition’s Tessie Castillo. “These syringes are currently clogging our parks, trash cans and sewage systems, putting children, law enforcement and the public at risk for needle-stick injury and exposure to diseases.”
Faircloth, a former Greensboro police chief, has expressed concern about law enforcement officers who have to search people who might have hypodermic needles in their possession.
“I remember having officers sticking their hands into someone who they were serving a warrant and getting stuck,” Faircloth said this spring at a meeting on reducing heroin abuse. He’s led the charge on getting other harm-reduction bills passed, including one that allows for someone possessing a needle to surrender it to police without fear of prosecution.
Faircloth’s bill met no opposition in the rules committee and heads to the Senate floor.
“We are really excited about H 712,” Castillo wrote after hearing the bill had moved forward. “The [General Assembly] is finally recognizing the problem and taking steps to help communities collect these syringes and safely dispose of them.”