Back in Feb of 2013, before I (Zach Baker) founded The Harm Reduction Project I presented the idea of having a 911 Good Samaritan Law to Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, as she had tried running a similar bill but in a different direction. She told me that if I did the leg work and got the ball rolling she would be inclined to pick it up, but couldn’t for that session which I agreed to do.
I immediately got to work, at the time I was president of Salt Lake Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and began making phone calls. I talked with Doctors, Lawyers, Substance Abuse Clinics, USARA (Utah Substance Abuse Recovery Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance Mental Illness), HRC (Harm Reduction Coalition), the DPA (Drug Policy Alliance), and anyone who would listen to me who could guide me someone who would be interested. When you know no one, networking is an essential skill and every phone call is extremely valuable. Every person I talked to I made sure to ask “Is there anyone or anywhere else you can think of that would be interested in this?”. A lot of the time this resulted in me getting personal cell phone #’s and most importantly a personal referral, not a cold-call where it’s more intimidating and harder to navigate where to get the best results.
I began reviewing what other states had in their 911 good Sam statutes and noted what I did and did not like about each one, and began preparing a “mock” bill with Lindsay which I presented to the chief sponsor on the bill. Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss. She was impressed with the amount of work I had done and told me she would open a bill file and this would become one of her priority bills for the session, I was ecstatic. I had actually influenced a state legislator, a seemingly impossible task but if your heart is in the right place and the issue is important they are here to listen, especially the good ones and I know in my heart this bill will save lives.
Carol had then opened a bill-file which at this point we had what we wanted in it. But we wanted to make sure this passed, so we did two things. First of all, we decided to make it two bills. The 911 Good Samaritan Bill (allowing people to call 911 in case of a drug overdose without fear of being charged for it) remained in one bill, while the portion about loosening regulations around Naloxone was pushed into a second bill to avoid confusion.
Secondly, we began to meet with the typical people who may be in opposition to our bill, we met with prosecutors, law enforcement, district attorneys, etc. to get their input and see if there was some common ground to agree upon which we found making one change to the 911 good sam made all of the difference in the world which was making it an affirmative defense rather than straight-out immunity from a drug offense; this means you can still be arrested but you would never be convicted which isn’t what I wanted in there but it was a necessary compromise we had to make which allowed our bill to pass through the Law Enforcement Legislative Interim Committee *unanimously*
It was then followed by passing the house unanimously as well. Let’s take one second to pause and think about that…. Here we are in ultra-conservative Utah, and a bill which allows people to call 911 for help for a drug overdose to not be charged with their drug crimes passed… unanimously?
In some training I’ve attended for lobbying and passing a bill I’ve been told it’s better to have no bill at all than a bad one, but I don’t believe this to be a bad bill, and I didn’t feel like we were in a position to bargain much more. It’s all up to each situation unique circumstances and given where we are and what we got I’m ecstatic.
As far as the Naloxone bill, it passed unanimously as well during an in-session committee hearing to the Health and Human Services Committee (HHS).
So far, this has been a great year for drug policy in Utah. IF anyone has any questions or is trying to pass similar legislation in their state you may always contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer it the best I can.
p.s. I’d also like to have a shout out to Corey Davis, and the NOPE Workgroup. Corey, you’ve been there for me every step of the way, and to everyone in NOPE_WG you guys all rock pushing for Naloxone day and night, it’s refreshing to see so many people who actually care about saving lives especially of those which society typically turns their back on.
For further reference, Utah’s 911 Good Sam bill is H.B. 11 – “Overdose Reporting Amendments” and can be found at:http://le.utah.gov/~
Utah’s Naloxone bill is HB 119 – “Opiate Overdose Emergency Treatment” located at:http://le.utah.gov/~
Join us on at the Been There Done That Show on Saturday 3-8-14 at our web site www.beentheredonethatshow.com Marsha, Talks with Zach Baker Ex. Director of the Harm Reduction Project which works to promote the health/dignity of individuals & communities who are impacted by drug use for the benefit of all Join us from 6pm-7pm click on the listen now button and join our show online you do not want to miss this show call in at (646) 200-0112 with questions or comments for our host.
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Zach Baker Harm Reduction Program
Zach Baker Harm Reduction Program