NE Syringe Program Bill Abandoned, by Senators Who’d Just Voted for It

    Syringe service programs (SSP) will not become legal in Nebraska in 2024, after lawmakers who’d previously supported a bill authorizing SSP flipped rather than go against Governor Jim Pillen. On March 12, a vote to override Pillen’s veto of the bill failed 27-20—three votes shy of approval.

    Legislative Bill 307 would have cleared Nebraska jurisdictions to exempt SSP from local drug paraphernalia laws criminalizing syringes. The bill does not explicitly state whether it intended to decriminalize glass pipes, referencing only “other items or equipment used to reduce the risk of disease transmission or other harm.” It would not have allocated any SSP funding.

    At the end of February, LB 307 had the requisite 30 votes to become law. But more than a dozen senators who’d previously approved of the bill, or abstained from voting, turned on it after Pillen issued a veto on March 4.

    The governor justified the veto with a series of false claims that went beyond the usual debunked myth about “inadequate disposal of dirty needles,” calling SSP “deadly” organizations that “increase drug deaths” and “encourage minors to abuse dangerous drugs instead of seeking out the substance abuse treatment they need.” Though SSP are primarily designed—successfully— to mitigate transmission of HIV and hepatitis C, they’re also associated with reductions in fatal overdose and overall drug use, as well as with increased entry into treatment.

    “The governor’s full of shit,” bill sponsor Senator Megan Hunt told Filter.

    She said the veto and subsequent failure to override it were set in motion in 2023, when colleagues proposed legislation to ban gender-affirming health care for minors. Hunt, whose son is transgender, led a three-month filibuster in an attempt to stop the bill from becoming law; ultimately, it did anyway.

    She believes Pillen’s veto of LB 307 was an act of personal retaliation, following reports that he’d instructed lawmakers to blackball anything associated with her.

    “That’s the entire reason,” Hunt said. “I think if the bill had been introduced by any Republican that he liked, it would be law today.”


    Hunt praised her colleagues who voted to override the veto, and said many of those who voted to sustain it did so only because of political pressure.

    “One woman said she didn’t want to be put in this position and it was too much stress for her so she just stayed home, even though she agreed with me,” Hunt continued. Another “said she was taking the side that she thought could be most helpful for her in her two-year term.”

    Though no state in the union has made sterile syringes accessible in proportion to demonstrated need, the parameters of state-level syringe access laws vary significantly. Some states criminalize syringes as drug paraphernalia, but authorize SSP to distribute them. Some do not have a law authorizing SSP, but do have SSP that operate legally because their paraphernalia laws exempt syringes. Though the laws don’t always lend themselves to direct comparisons between one state and another, Nebraska is currently among the most restrictive. It prohibits SSP, and allowing only pharmacy employees to sell syringes for public health purposes.

    Asked whether the bill has a path forward to being reintroduced in 2025, Hunt told Filter that there’s always a path forward. But in this case, someone else might have to walk it.

    “Probably a Republican or conservative has to introduce it next time,” she said. “I’ll probably never pass a fucking bill in this place again, if these people are so up their own ass about everything.”



    Photograph via Nebraska Legislature

    • Alexander is Filter’s staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it’s actually alright. He’s also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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