- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A watered-down version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-meth legislation is advancing in the House, though significant differences remain with the Senate bill.

The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved the measure that would set an annual cap of 150 days’ worth of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without prescription.

That’s double the amount envisioned under Haslam’s previous proposal that has been adopted in the Senate. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said it could require a conference committee between the two chambers to reconcile their differences.

The Chattanooga Republican said lawmakers want to avoid the bill failing over differences between the two chambers.

“We don’t want to read about some little kid getting burned up, or smelling this stuff and poisoning themselves,” he said.

Several members of the committee said they worry about enacting legislation that could hurt the ability of people to legitimately obtain the medications they need without going through a doctor.

“We aren’t really doing anything here to punish the bad actors, and that’s what I would like to see,” said Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster. “This totally concentrates on law-abiding citizens, and therefore I cannot support this legislation.”

Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who has been leading Haslam’s anti-meth effort in the Legislature, said he expects heavy negotiations to take place to reconcile the competing versions of the bill.

“Our goal is to come out with a good, strong bill that both the Senate the House will ultimately agree upon,” he said.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, an organization representing pharmaceutical companies, praised the House panel’s “desire to take a more reasonable approach on this issue in comparison to the Senate,” but still raised objections to the overall measure.

“The proposal passed today represents a reduction of nearly 75 percent in the amount of certain allergy medicines a Tennessean can buy today,” Carlos Gutierrez, the head of government affairs for the association, said in a release. “A significant number of Tennessee families would have to make several unnecessary doctor’s visits each and every year.”

Haslam’s original proposal would have established a monthly limit of 2.4 grams of pseudoephedrine, or a 10-day maximum dose, before requiring a pharmacist to authorize another 10 days’ worth before getting a doctor’s prescription.

Facing resistance over that measure, the governor later removed the pharmacist element, and instead proposed a 4.8-gram month maximum and an annual cap of 14.4 grams. That proposal was adopted in the Senate. The House version would instead set a 5.8 gram monthly cap and annual limit of 28.8 grams.

When pressed by reporters about why the bill faced higher obstacles in the House, Gibbons noted that the issued has been the subject of a heavy advocacy campaign.

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

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