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Pillen vetoes Nebraska safe syringes program legislation, as expected

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Pillen vetoes Nebraska safe syringes program legislation, as expected

Mar 04, 2024 | 12:36 pm ET
By Zach Wendling
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Pillen vetoes Nebraska safe syringes program legislation, as expected
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Gov. Jim Pillen. May 26, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — As expected, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has vetoed a legislative proposal seeking to allow local municipalities and counties to adopt safe syringes programs.

Pillen on Monday submitted a letter explaining his decision to veto Legislative Bill 307, which passed 30-7 last Thursday. According to the governor, syringe services programs, or SSPs:

  • Have led to increased drug deaths where they have been implemented.
  • Are not effective at decreasing drug usage or disease transmission compared to other means.
  • Have the potential to expose citizens to unintended, “yet equally concerning” health and safety risks due to improperly disposed needles.

LB 307, as written, would also allow for children of any age to participate in an SSP, Pillen said.

“I do not think it is prudent to encourage minors to abuse dangerous drugs instead of seeking out the substance abuse treatment they need to overcome drug addiction,” Pillen wrote.

‘Should support less deadly ways’ 

The governor takes aim at supporters of the bill citing studies on the effectiveness of programs that were stood up to combat HIV during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. Those programs, Pillen said, “differ substantially” from the ongoing opioid crisis both in geographic reach and lethality.

Pillen’s veto letter

Read Gov. Jim Pillen’s full letter explaining his reasoning to veto LB 307.

Pillen also expressed concern that the cost and demand of SSPs could balloon, pointing to San Francisco. Two years after implementation, the number of distributed needles rose by 1.15 million at an additional $123,000. He said LB 307 could lead to increased property taxes.

“Simply put, adoption of LB 307 has the potential to expose our communities to the same issues that others have experienced,” Pillen wrote. “We should support less deadly ways of combating drug usage and the spreading of diseases.”

One study cited in the letter, related to HIV prevention strategies and incidence rates in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, suggests a higher level of testing and counseling would be more effective than legal access to needles and syringes.

‘We’re going to pass this bill’

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who introduced LB 307, has said her legislation could reduce potential harm of those with addiction while honoring and protecting the state’s first responders and law enforcement.

The bill would allow local jurisdictions to authorize a community-based SSP, but not within 500 feet of certain public or private facilities, such as child care or youth centers and K-12 schools.

HIV.gov states that participants in SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop injecting drugs.

Hunt, who expected a veto, said in a Monday tweet that lawmakers will override it.

“Pillen cites a lot of misinformation in his reasoning for vetoing the bill, but my colleagues understand that LB 307 is tailored to the needs of Nebraskans through input of local experts, stakeholders and practitioners,” Hunt tweeted.

An override requires at least 30 votes. 

Six senators were absent during the vote, including State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, who indicated she would have voted to support the bill.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to pass this bill and it will be law, and it’s going to help a lot of people and save lives in Nebraska,” Hunt told the Examiner on Thursday.