Sen. Dan Foster lost another fight to make pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug Tuesday afternoon, but he was able to amend a new limit on the medication into Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's substance abuse bill.
But Foster had to wait until a lengthy drama over whether to allow county sheriffs to access the state's prescription drug monitoring system to play out in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judiciary committee members approved a modified version of Tomblin's bill - which overhauls the state's prescription drug and pseudoephedrine tracking systems and revamps licensing requirements for pain clinics - after a lengthy threehour debate on the plan.
Most of the debate centered on whether the state should grant county sheriff's access to the statewide prescription drug monitoring system.
Right now, only 16 West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation troopers, about two dozen drug task force members and a handful of other state representatives have access to the Board of Pharmacy's database.
Both the pharmacy board and State Police wanted to retain that restricted access. But county sheriffs also want access to the system because they handle 90 percent of the drug cases in the state.
The State Police worried granting broader access could lead to abuse of the system or taint the quality of evidence used at trial. State Police representatives also said such abuse could lead a court to declare the entire system unconstitutional.
But sheriffs say having to go through 16 State Police officers each time they need information for an investigation can waste crucial time.
They said by granting them access to the system and giving all law enforcement branches this tool, they'll be able to boost efficiency in tackling drug cases. "The division among law enforcement is where the breakdown comes in West Virginia," said Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller. "I believe the more we're on the same page, the more effective we can be."
But the argument over the amendment digressed into a parliamentary morass that lasted well into the evening.
It was a round-robin questioning session with Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, siding with the State Police, and other lawmakers supporting sheriffs peppering representatives from both sides about the issue.
Eventually, a frustrated Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, made a motion to get the debate back to the issue at hand. After having legal counsel fetch copies of Senate rules and parliamentary procedures, chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, finally called for a vote.
Committee members approved granting sheriffs access by a voice vote.
As they did in the Senate Health Committee last week, lawmakers also rejected Foster's second attempt to amend provisions into the bill making pseudoephedrine a prescriptiononly drug by a voice vote.