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State senators took the first step in approving legislation authorizing the state health director to issue a statewide prescription allowing broader access to the overdose drug naloxone.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, was approved Tuesday morning by the Senate Health Care Committee.

State Health Director Dr. Randall Williams called the move essential in preventing the rapidly rising number of overdose deaths in the state.

“The issue we’re looking at today is the public health crisis of our time,” Williams told senators at the hearing. He said one in four autopsies conducted in the state are for overdoses. The new law would allow him to issue a prescription under a 2013 state law that allowed family members or others in a position to react to an overdose to anonymously obtain and administer the drug.

The change, Williams said, would greatly expand access to the drug and allow people to have it on hand in the event of an overdose.

“This will save lives,” he said.

Committee chair, Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, praised the effort and said there would be more measures this session aimed at addressing the growing addiction problem.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the opioid field,” Hise said.

Davis, who described the addiction problem as a “modern-day plague,” said he is working on additional bills.

He said another measure would improve efforts to deal with prescription drug abuse.

“Most of these heroin abusers, about 80 percent, get started with prescription drugs,” he said. “So, were going to try and go further upstream and attack the problem there as well. The impact it’s having on our society is so incredible we need to do everything we can. Few people are not impacted by this.”

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For Buncombe Dems, HB2 still dominates

Buncombe County Democrats Brian Turner and John Ager said they continue to hear concerns about HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, especially among constituents in travel and tourism businesses.

Ager said Buncombe County recently took a huge financial hit when the Kellogg Foundation canceled its conference at the Grove Park Inn. “They’ve been doing this for the past seven years,” Ager said. “Now they’ll just go to another Omni (Hotel) somewhere else in the country.”

Turner said despite the strong national pushback, he does not sense much of a chance of repeal for the bill.

“Buncombe County lost 500 jobs and we’ve lost several million dollars in tourism revenue. So, my community has felt a hit,” he said. “I fear that there are a number of folks in the General Assembly who until their community starts to lose are not going to consider a repeal.”

Turner was tapped for the swearing in duties for Rep. Chris Sgro, D-Guilford, the executive director of Equality NC, who was appointed after the death of Rep. Ralph Johnson. Sgro, the only openly gay legislator, said he plans to push for repeal of the law.

“He’s been very supportive of me,” Turner said of his new colleague, “so I was very happy to return the favor.”

Increases proposed for WNC facilities

Because much of the capital spending that is contained in the budget has been shifted to the recently approved Connect NC bond program, there’s not a lot of new spending in the governor’s proposed budget.

But two new facilities serving the WNC region are among the handful that would see a bump under the proposal released last week.

McCrory’s plan would provide funding for 36 new positions at the Division of Mental Health’s new Broughton Hospital in Morganton. The hospital, which will draw patients from the WNC region, would receive a total of $1.9 million in state funding and an estimated $800,000 in funding from receipts from other agencies.

The governor also proposes $1,389,079 for the start up funding for utilities, equipment and a maintenance position for the new Western Crime Lab in Edneyville in Henderson County. Construction on the facility, aimed at reducing a backlog in toxicology testing, is expected to be completed in March of next year.

Local bills

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Rep. Chris Whitmire, R-Transylvania, is one of the primary sponsors of a bill to increase funding for regional professional development training for K-12 educators. The bill would distribute $300,000 each to eight center statewide including the Western Regional Educational Service Alliance in Candler.

Whitmire and Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, are co-sponsors of a bill to authorize new construction at the Blue Ridge Community College in Henderson County.

Sen. Davis has introduced legislation to exempt the Clay County Courthouse in Hayesville from several state bidding and contract requirements in order to allow lessees of the building to cover the cost of renovation and restoration required to convert it to a multi-purpose facility.

 

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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