published Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Haslam backs weaker meth bill to Tennessee

Bill Haslam
Bill Haslam
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — With the Haslam administration’s approval, a House panel on Wednesday passed a weaker version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill limiting sales of pseudophedrine-based cold medicines used to “cook” illegal meth.

House Criminal Justice Committee members approved the measure on a voice vote.

Approval came only after Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, promised panel members he would “blow” up the bill if it is changed, as some senators want, to require prescriptions for all psuedoephedrine-based remedies.

Haslam had already altered his original bill once to please law enforcement officials who argued for tougher limits on over-the-counter cold and flu remedies.

Now, he’s agreed to ease restrictions to placate House members who blocked the bill in subcommittee earlier this month, fearing it would infuriate regular users of cold and flu medications.

As a result, the bill that passed committee Wednesday goes from the 4.4 grams supported by Haslam to 5.67 grams or two standard-size packages per month. The annual limit doubles from 14.4 grams to 28.8 grams per year.

Anything above the limits would require a doctor’s prescription.

Senators continue to back Haslam’s plan. The governor is a late-comer to the battle between Tennessee’s law enforcement community and powerful pharmaceutical manufacturers or “Big Pharma” which has gone all out in lobbying against the bill.

Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons told the panel in response to questions that “we’re very comfortable with this version.”

Earlier, Shipley told McCormick, with whom he had previously quarreled after Shipley sidetracked the governor’s bill in subcommittee, that “I want to hug you.”

That drew smiles from McCormick, who replied, “for the record here, I want everyone to know I like Tony Shipley. I won’t say I love him, but I like him.”

Shipley and committee colleagues extracted promises of support from McCormick to defend their bill against tougher approaches pushed either on the House floor or if an expected House and Senate conference committee materializes.

McCormick said he would “blow up the whole thing if you’re with me” if necessary.

Some committee members still refused to vote for the bill, saying they can’t support any restrictions at all.

Asked later why the bill faces a tougher go in the House, Gibbons said it had been the subject of ads by pharmaceutical companies.

“You’ve been around long enough to know this is a very heavily lobbied bill,” Gibbons told reporters.

Another law enforcement official said the ads misleadingly portray the bill as a prescription-only measure.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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