Campaign Against "Souder's Law" Progresses Forward and Outward in DC and the States 2/25/05

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The campaign to repeal the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision -- the brainchild of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) -- continues to pick up steam. On Wednesday, legislators in the Arizona General Assembly Education Committee approved a bipartisan-sponsored resolution calling on Congress to repeal the drug provision by a vote of 6-2 -- the measure now moves to the assembly as a whole, where a vote is expected as early as next week. And in Washington, DC, reformers are gearing up for a pair of events marking the reintroduction of Rep. Barney Frank's repeal bill in early March.

CHEAR press conference with ten
members of Congress, May 2002
The HEA drug provision bars students with drug convictions from receiving financial aid for specified periods. According to figures from the US Department of Education, more than 160,500 have lost financial aid since the provision went into effect in 2000 including some 34,000 this academic year alone. This number includes only those who completed their federal Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA), not those who gave up because they (rightly or wrongly) believed they did not qualify for aid.

"It seems that we have support from both sides of the fence" in Arizona, said Chris Mulligan, a member of DRCNet's staff who is serving as campaign director for the umbrella group leading the effort, the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR). "The legislator leading the way on this issue, David Bradley, has 25 years of experience in dealing with at-risk youth. It seems the legislature has been heeding his expertise on this issue."

If the measure passes the legislature, Arizona would become the second state to have passed such a resolution -- Delaware passed a similar one last year, almost unanimously. The moves are aimed at persuading US Representatives and Senators from those states that voters back home support repeal of the provision.

The campaign will also kick things up a notch on March 9 and 10 in Washington, DC. On March 9, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and former mandatory minimum drug war prisoner Kemba Smith will keynote at a fundraiser for the John W. Perry Fund, a scholarship program providing scholarships to students who have been denied federal financial aid because of drug convictions.

The following day, CHEAR is hosting a Capitol Hill press conference to announce the introduction of the Removing Impediments to Students' Education (RISE) Act by HEA reform friend Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who will moderate the event. The RISE Act is Frank's bill calling for full repeal of the HEA anti-drug provision, although this year it has a new, media-friendly moniker. Also addressing the press conference will be Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, Larry Zaglaniczny of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, Scarlett Swerdlow of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), along with representatives from the ACLU, the United States Student Association, and other organizations and members of Congress to be announced.

The Perry Fund, which is a project of DRCNet Foundation, is named after a New York City police officer and widely respected civil libertarian and drug reformer, John Perry, who lost his life in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center in September 2001. The Perry Fund's purpose goes beyond helping needy students stay in school, said DRCNet executive director Dave Borden, intellectual author of the fund. "The Perry Fund helps some students, but it also makes a statement, a special kind of impression that goes beyond mere advocacy. We're not just talking about how bad this law is. We're actually giving scholarships to keep the people in school whom Congress tried to keep out. It's also a great way to find victims of the law who are willing to speak out in the media, even though we don't require that."

In addition to Conyers and Smith, the event will feature grand old man of drug reform Arnold Trebach, Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Institute, Scarlett Swerdlow of SSDP, and DRCNet's Borden. Perry's mother, Patricia, a strong supporter of the fund, has been invited, but her appearance had not been confirmed by press time, as was the case with Larry Zaglaniczny of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, an organization that has consistently advocated for the drug provision's repeal.

While Conyers will provide the political clout, the fundraiser's star power also comes from Kemba Smith, one of the best known drug war prisoners of recent years. At age 24, Smith was sentenced to 24 ½ years in prison for "conspiracy," primarily because her boyfriend, a violent and abusive man who is now dead, was the leader of a cocaine ring. After being featured on the cover of Emerge magazine, she became a cause celebre in the African American community, and in December 2000 her sentence was commuted by President Clinton. Smith has since graduated from college and become a frequent speaker at events around the country, under the auspices of the Kemba Smith Foundation.

"There are more individuals, organizations, and members of Congress calling for repeal of the HEA anti-drug provision than ever before," said CHEAR's Mulligan. "Mark Souder has placed his solution to the problem -- limiting the provision to currently enrolled students -- in several pieces of legislation, but we think that a partial fix like that is not enough. It is our job to show Congress and the education community that denying financial aid to anyone with a drug conviction, no matter how minor, is simply a failed public policy. These events will help us raise the profile of this important issue," he said.

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Issue #376 -- 2/25/05

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Editorial: PROOF | Campaign Against "Souder's Law" Progresses Forward and Outward in DC and the States | Ohio Drugged Driving Bill Hits Speed Bumps in House After Quick Senate Approval | Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse 2005 -- An Overview of Progress So Far | DRCNet Book Reviews: "Drugs and Democracy" and "Dangerous Harvests" | DRCNet/Perry Fund Event to Feature Rep. John Conyers and Kemba Smith, March 9 in Washington, DC | This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Newsbrief: Bush All But Admitted Past Drug Use in Secretly Recorded Tapes | Newsbrief: Pushing National Drug Control Strategy, Drug Czar Calls for Drug War to Emulate Terror War | Newsbrief: Parents More Chill About Teen Drug Use, Study Frets | Newsbrief: In Latest Border Killing, Agent Shoots Unarmed Marijuana Mule | Newsbrief: More Meth Madness -- Iowa School District to Ban Homemade Goodies for Fear of Crank Contamination | Newsbrief: Marijuana Legalization to be Debated at Canadian Liberal Party Meet | Newsbrief: Singapore's First-Ever Cocaine Bust Prompts Ad Campaign Aimed at Elite | Newsbrief: Counterculture Icon Hunter Thompson Dead By His Own Hand | This Week in History | Job Openings with MPP Nevada Campaign, and Other Opportunities | The Reformer's Calendar

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