West Virginia House Judiciary Committee Split Over Meth Bill

The West Virginia House Judiciary Committee is deeply divided over legislation that would require a prescription for purchase of pseudoephedrine.

The legislation passed the Senate last month 25 to 9.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up the legislation either Tuesday or Wednesday. If the bill passes out of the committee, it would need to have three readings in the House by Saturday, the last day of the legislative session.

Sources close to the vote indicate that the bill’s sponsors have the necessary 13 votes — 11 Democrats and two Republicans — to get the bill out of the 25 member committee, which is comprised of 14 Democrats and 11 Republicans.

But the situation is fluid, with both sides working on wavering committee members, including Democrats Isaac Sponaugle, Linda Longstreth, and Justin Marcum and Republican John Shott.

Even if the bill gets out of the Judiciary Committee, it faces major hurdles on the House floor, where Democrats facing tough re-election bids in November are wavering or opposed.

Fully nine out of ten members of the House of Delegates from the Eastern Panhandle — including Democrats Jason Barrett and Tiffany Lawrence — have apparently capitulated to the pharmaceutical industry’s barrage of radio ads, e-mails and phone calls.

But the legislation’s sponsors were given a boost yesterday when former Mississippi Governor and former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour weighed in for the bill.

Barbour, now a partner at Butler Snow in Ridgeland, Mississippi, sent a letter to John Ellem (R), minority chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

“It is my understanding you are trying to help pass a bill to require a prescription for the purchase of pseudoephedrine to reduce methamphetamine production in West Virginia,” Barbour wrote. “I wish you success as such a program worked extremely well in Mississippi.”

“In 2010, our state was struggling to combat methamphetamine lab activities and the havoc each one creates. Our state’s answer was to require a prescription for the purchase of pseudoephedrine products through scheduling.”

“During the debate on scheduling pseudoephedrine, industry lobbyists, as an alternative to requiring a prescription, promoted various electronic tracking methods. Mississippi was already tracking sales. According to my Bureau of Narcotics, no state has the resources to monitor a tracking system, and no e-tracking system has reduced methamphetamine lab activity in the long term. Mississippi was no exception.”

“The simple truth is that Mississippians did not want us to track the sale of pseudoephedrine to reduce methamphetamine labs — they wanted us to eliminate them.”

“The Mississippi Legislature passed HB 512 during the 2010 Regular Legislative Session by an overwhelming majority,” Barbour wrote. “This bipartisan bill may be the most significant drug enforcement legislation in the history of Mississippi. The numbers tell the story: 83% reduction in the number of methamphetamine lab related incidents and a 98% reduction in operational methamphetamine labs. Countless lives saved.”

“Naysayers predicted that Medicaid costs would skyrocket, and the public outcry would affect re-elections. I am happy to say that simply did not happen. This is and should be a non-partisan issue. This is a public safety and a public health issue which had broad support from the healthcare community, as well as law enforcement. Good luck in your 2014 session, and I wish you success in making the best decision for West Virginia.”

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