Charleston council delays harm reduction vote to April 19 meeting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Charleston City Council has delayed a vote related to harm reduction programs until later this month.

The city council was scheduled to vote on a committee substitute for Bill 7893 during its meeting Monday but instead voted 15-12 to consider the issue at its April 19 meeting.

The measure would require harm reduction programs in Charleston to have certification from the state and a one-to-one needle exchange. City council members have pushed the measure as HIV cases in Kanawha County spike.

Councilmember Ben Adams proposed a motion to delay the vote as the state Legislature consider a measure to further regulate harm reduction programs. The Senate passed Senate Bill 334 last month, and the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee approved the proposal on Friday.

“The legislative session will adjourn April 10, 2021, and that means in the next five days, there will likely be clarity on this issue from a state level,” he said.

The council’s move followed a lengthy public comment period in which citizens and advocates spoke about the local resolution and the possible effects on the community.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue for months,” Councilmember Sam Minardi said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to take action tonight.”

Minardi argued it is not certain the Legislature will pass the bill, and the city should address the problem in its own way rather than wait for possible action.

“If we delay action, we just miss an opportunity. We’re just kicking a can down the road a little farther than we really need to,” he added.

The council’s proposal also prohibits police chiefs from providing exceptions or establishing penalties for violating the city’s harm reduction program ordinance.