Hoping to stem the spread of diseases such as HIV, a Senate committee Thursday approved a long-discussed proposal that would create a pilot needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade County.
The 5-3 vote by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee means that the bill (SB 242) is ready for consideration by the full Senate when the 2016 legislative session starts in January.
The bill would authorize the University of Miami to run a program in which drug users could swap dirty needles and syringes for clean needles and syringes. The program would be privately funded.
Bill sponsor Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, pointed to high rates of HIV and AIDS in Miami-Dade County and said the problems have "massive repercussions' for emergency rooms, first responders and state health-care spending.
"It's an epidemic, and we have to do something,'' he said. But Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, expressed concerns about appearing to sanction the use of illegal drugs.
"I don't want the state of Florida to give them (illegal drug users) any encouragement to continue their habits,'' said Hays, who voted against the bill, along with Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, and Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity.
Supporting the measure were committee Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami; Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach; Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach; Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth; and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.