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Bill to allow safe injection sites for drug users fails in California Senate

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Downtown Streets Team member Moses Richards, left, holds a container as team leader Darcel Jackson disposes of a needle found on the corner of Larkin and Grove streets in San Francisco on March 17, 2016. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

California will not legalize safe injection sites for drug users this year after a state bill failed to pass the Senate on the last day of the legislative session Friday.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, a co-author of the bill, said he intended to ask the Senate to reconsider the proposal after it failed by two votes Tuesday night, but apparently the support wasn’t there and no vote occurred.

Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, who introduced the bill, announced her decision late Friday that she wouldn’t ask for the bill to be reconsidered by the Senate.

SEE RELATED: Wiener fails to pass bill in California Senate to allow safe injection sites for drug users

“Tonight I decided with my dedicated co-authors … that I would not bring Assembly Bill 186 up for another vote prior to the end of the session,” Eggman said in a statement posted on Twitter Friday night. “We have made incredible progress on this life-saving policy, from not getting a vote in policy committee last year all the way to the Senate floor.”

“While I am disappointed that the bill will not pass at this time, I am committed to finding a way forward next year. The opioid epidemic continues and new solutions are desperately need.”

In a text message to the San Francisco Examiner, Wiener said he was “disappointed we fell two votes short in the Senate” but vowed to continue to work on passing the law next year. “We will work with Senators to address concerns and build a majority,” Wiener said. “I believe we can get there, and we must, since this public health epidemic is only getting worse. Safe injection sites are a smart approach that we should try.”

The Assembly passed AB 186 in June by a 41 to 33 vote, after the bill was amended to apply not to the entire state but eight counties, including San Francisco. Subsequently, the bill was narrowed even further, eliminating Fresno and Santa Cruz counties and leaving in Alameda, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco and San Joaquin.

But the Senate vote on the bill Tuesday night failed 19 to 17 with four Democratic senators not voting after Republicans blasted the measure, siding with statewide law enforcement groups like the California Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs’ Association, which opposed the effort. The bill required 21 votes to pass.

Backers of the bill had tried to shore up the votes needed after Tuesday’s defeat for a reconsideration of the bill.

On Thursday Wiener tweeted, “Our safe injection site bill stalled but we’re not done: we’re fighting to pass it, tackle this public health crisis.”

U.S. drug overdose deaths increased by 21 percent between 2015 and 2016, with 64,070 people dying of drug overdoses compared to the 52,898 recorded overdose deaths in 2015, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The failure of AB 186 is a setback for San Francisco’s effort to become the first U.S. city to provide safe injection services. The City established a safe injection site task force headed by Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia, which will release recommendations this month.

When asked Friday morning about the impacts of AB 186 not passing, Dr. Tomas Aragon, DPH’s director of the Population Health Division, told the San Francisco Examiner, “Obviously The City will prefer to have that. If it doesn’t come through, I think people are going to put their heads together and try and figure out what we can do.”

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