House Reinstates "Social Riders" in District of Colombia Appropriations Bill 7/30/99

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Taylor West, [email protected]

Celebrations over last week's victories in the House Appropriations Committee disintegrated Thursday as riders to ban the use of local funds for needle exchange and for a medical marijuana initiative were tacked on to the District of Columbia spending bill during debate on the House floor.

Both of these riders were removed last week in the House Appropriations Committee through amendments offered by Representative James P. Moran (D-VA). However, each was reentered into debate on the House floor Thursday. Representative Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) sponsored the amendment to ban all public funding of needle exchange in the District; it passed by a vote of 241-187. Perennial Drug War hawk Bob Barr (R-GA) continued his crusade against DC's 1998 public referendum on medical marijuana, sponsoring an amendment to disallow the implementation of medical marijuana measures, should such measures be accepted by the will of the DC voters. The votes themselves have as yet to be counted, having been impounded by a Barr amendment to last year's DC budget. Barr's amendment to this year's budget passed Thursday by a voice vote, meaning individual Congresspersons' votes were not recorded.

The Tiahrt amendment underwent a full hour of debate on the floor before an inconclusive voice vote was taken. The roll call vote was postponed until later in the afternoon. When that vote was taken, 201 Republicans and 40 Democrats elected to deny DC the right to use its own funds to finance a needle exchange in the city. (See how your rep voted at

This year's Barr amendment took a slightly different approach than the one added to the DC budget last year. Last year, the budget forbade the use of any funds to count and certify the initiative. The ballots have been impounded since the referendum took place in November. This year's amendment allows the votes to be counted, but immediately overturns any result in favor of decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana. Under normal circumstances, if the initiative passed, the House, the Senate, and the Presidential administration would have 30 days in which to legislatively block it. If any one of those three bodies did not sign on, the initiative would become law. Barr's amendment supplants that review process by creating an automatic block. It passed by an uncounted voice vote after approximately 20 minutes of debate.

DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) expressed dismay at the attachment of these riders, both on the floor during debate and in a press release following the votes. Addressing the Tiahrt amendment in the press statement, she remarked, "The prohibition on using our own funds to save the lives of our own people was unconscionable. We can't live with that result because kids and adults won't live if we do." On the floor, she praised DC Mayor Anthony Williams and the DC City Council for creating a responsible, balanced budget that included "prudent investments" in human services. "Their work should not be undermined by the imposition of the personal preferences of Members [of Congress] on a local jurisdiction when Members are not accountable to local voters."

The struggle over DC's spending rights will continue as a conference committee attempts to resolve the differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate included neither of these social riders in the draft that they passed. A final resort lies in the possibility for a presidential veto. The Clinton administration supports the right of localities to operate needle exchanges and has stated its displeasure at the DC budget riders.

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Issue #101, 7/30/99 House Reinstates "Social Riders" in District of Colombia Appropriations Bill | New Mexico Republicans Stop Short of Repudiating Governor | Jamaica: Lawmakers Consider Decriminalization of Marijuana, Medical Marijuana Research Facility | Clinton Administration Proposes Changes to Methadone Regulations | Army Spy Plane Disappears Over Colombia, Speculation of Coming US Intervention Abounds | Australian State to Open Legal Heroin Injecting Room | DEA Chief Acknowledges Agency's Ineffectiveness | Newsbriefs | Senate Considering Raising Methamphetamine Penalties | Editorial: Body Bags
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