MONTPELIER — Keith Flynn’s departure from the Statehouse on Friday evening before House and Senate lawmakers had struck a deal on a bill designed to fight prescription drug abuse signaled that negotiations had finally fallen apart and the bill was dead.
“It’s over,” said Flynn, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, as he headed for the door.
The failure to reach agreement means a bill the Legislature spent many hours considering will not become law this year as the House and Senate leadership were trying to adjourn Friday night.
One disagreement between the House and the Senate undermined a bill that contained numerous provisions designed to curb what Gov. Peter Shumlin has been calling an “epidemic” of prescription drug addiction since his State of the State address in January.
Lawmakers in the House wanted police to get a warrant before getting information from a state database that tracks the medicines Vermont doctors are prescribing.
In its version of the legislation, the Senate said police would not have to get a warrant.
The two sides have been negotiating behind closed doors and in sometimes tense public meetings throughout the week, exchanging proposed deals that satisfied neither side.
Senate lawmakers and Shumlin said the bill would be useless if a warrant was required, but the House wasn’t willing to budge.
The talks were in trouble before Friday. Shumlin called a news conference Thursday specifically to chastise the House for its position on the bill and to try to pressure House lawmakers to cave in, a sign negotiations had stalled.
Flynn said he was disappointed to see the bill go down.
“I think that this would have enabled us to get to a lot more people that have these addictions,” he said. “I think it would have allowed us to intervene in these addictions and ultimately save lives. My hope is that no one else dies in the state of Vermont from an opiate addiction.”
Rep. Ann Pugh, chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee, said she was also disappointed to see the bill die, because it contained other important provisions that both sides agree on.
But in her view saving those provisions was not worth granting police warrantless access to the database.
“We were willing to give them the tool,” said Pugh. “We were just not willing to sacrifice Vermonters’ privacy.”
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