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Don't let Congress get away with it

 

Tell Congress to Stand Up for Students


Tell your representative and senators that you are tired of the same old "Drug War" politics.
http://www.ssdp.org/speakup/

 

Dear friends,

Congress failed us.

Despite a decade-long campaign by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, supporters like you, and a large and powerful coalition of more than 500 prominent organizations, Congress finally reauthorized the Higher Education Act (HEA) last week but chose to ignore our demands that they overturn the provision that strips financial aid from college students with drug convictions.

How come?

Outrageously, staffers on Capitol Hill are telling us that some members of Congress were terrified of facing negative attack ads calling them "pro-drug" if they voted for a bill reinstating aid to students with drug convictions.

Even as Congress was debating the HEA bill last week, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the author and chief proponent of the aid penalty claimed on the House floor that his precious provision "has been much aligned [sic] by ***pro-drug groups*** around the country."

So you can see that one of the major roadblocks to reform is the false conventional wisdom that voters will punish politicians who do the right thing by repealing harmful and ineffective drug laws. 

It's up to reformers like you and me to smash this false conventional wisdom by standing up and showing politicians that they will actually win votes for doing the right thing (and that, conversely, we may punish them at the polls for letting their unfounded fears stand in the way of progress).  After all, it is this anti-education penalty itself that causes more drug abuse, right?

So no matter how many times you have taken action on this issue in the past, please take just one minute to edit and send a pre-written letter to your representative and two senators demanding that Congress stop letting senseless political fears keep deserving and hardworking students out of school.

Click here right now to take action. http://www.ssdp.org/speakup/

And please make sure you forward us any responses you get from your legislators so we can track who is standing in the way of change.  Send those important responses to [email protected] when you get them.

Despite this setback, SSDP and our coalition allies are as determined as ever to see this senseless penalty repealed.  We are already planning our strategy for the next Congress and presidential administration, and remain optimistic that despite the barriers we have yet to overcome, we will ultimately restore financial aid to the more than 200,000 students impacted by this penalty.  In the meantime, members of Congress need to continue to hear an unwavering message from constituents that the public will not stand idly by as our elected officials continue to deny access to education in the name of the so-called "War on Drugs."

If we don't speak up and demand change when legislators need to hear it most, who will?  Please take action today. http://www.ssdp.org/speakup/

Thanks for all that you do,
Tom Angell
SSDP Government Relations Director

P.S. If you'd like to see SSDP continue to work on this and other issues, let us know by making a donation today. http://www.ssdp.org/donate

P.P.S. If you are a student wishing to get involved in fighting back against Drug War attacks on youth, contact us about starting an SSDP chapter: http://www.ssdp.org/chapters/start

Feature: Higher Education Act Drug Conviction Penalty Repeal Stymied As Democrats Choke -- Again

A step toward victory turned to ashes for the broad coalition pushing for repeal of the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision (also known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty") last week as, for the second time this year, key Democratic politicians refused to push it ahead. Now, the only chance to achieve repeal this session will come in conference committee, thanks to a possible tactical error by the bill's author.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/scott-hea-amendment-2007.jpg
Bobby Scott offers his short-lived HEA amendment this month
Earlier this year, language that would have removed the drug question from the federal financial aid form, but without repealing the underlying law, made it as far as the Senate floor as part of language approved by the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee for the years-delayed HEA reauthorization bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), however, offered a successful amendment to strip the language, which HELP Chairman Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as floor manager allowed to go through without a fight. Last week, House Democrats led by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Education & Labor and a supporter of repeal, declined to hear an amendment to their HEA bill that would have enacted repeal.

The Aid Elimination Penalty bars students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid for specified periods of time from their conviction dates. As originally written by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), it punished students for any infraction in their past. But last year, under pressure from a broad range of educational, religious, civil rights, and other groups organized into the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), Souder amended his own law so that it now applies only to offenses committed while a student is in school and receiving aid.

Under the provision, more than 200,000 students have been denied financial aid. An unknown number have been deterred from even applying because they believed -- rightly or often wrongly -- that their drug convictions would bar them from receiving aid.

Instead of going for repeal, as key Democrats had promised, the committee heard and adopted two amendments to the provision by its author, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), which are actually seen by advocates as likely to be positive steps. One would require schools to inform enrolling students in writing about the existence of the penalty. Another would loosen a clause in the law that currently allows students to regain their eligibility for financial aid by completing a drug treatment program, by allowing them to just pass two randomly-scheduled drug tests administered by a treatment program.

The dispute over the Aid Elimination Penalty wasn't limited to Capitol Hill committee hearings. In a move to the blunt the efforts of the penalty's foes, Souder sent out a Dear Colleague letter where he accused the 500 groups that belong to CHEAR of being "drug legalizers," an attack that did not go unnoticed.

"I wanted to make you aware of an important provision in the current law that is facing assault by a small but determined coalition of drug-legalization groups," Souder wrote in the November 1 letter. "Before you are bombarded by the talking points of such groups, I wanted to make sure everyone has the facts straight," he wrote.

Taking umbrage at Souder's characterization of their organizations, 16 groups responded with their own letter to Souder, asking him to retract his statement and requesting a meeting with him to explain directly why they oppose his law. "We, the undersigned organizations, would like to assure you that the coalition supporting repeal of the Aid Elimination Penalty ranges far beyond 'drug-legalization groups,' said the letter. "Last week, over 160 organizations signed a letter to Education & Labor Committee Chairman George Miller and Ranking Member Buck McKeon calling for full repeal, bringing the total number of groups in opposition to the penalty to more than 500. These organizations represent a broad range of interests, including the areas of addiction treatment and recovery, civil rights, college administration and admissions, criminal justice, legal reform and faith leaders. The overwhelming majority of signatories of the letter to Chairman Miller and Ranking Member McKeon do not endorse drug legalization. As just a small sampling of such organizations, we, the undersigned, want to make clear that opposition to the [anti-drug provision] is not in any way dependent on support for broad drug legalization."

The signatories to the letter were the American Federation of Teachers, the American Friends Service Committee, the Coalition of Essential Schools, College Parents of America, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Friends Committee on National Legislation, International Nurses Society on Addictions, the National Association of Social Workers, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, National Education Association, National Women's Health Network, National Youth Rights Association, Therapeutic Communities of America, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, the United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society, and the United States Student Association."

Souder didn't respond to that letter, but he did lash out again, this time at the Capitol Hill newspaper The Politico, whose Ryan Grim had been writing about the conflict. In a letter published in the The Politico complaining about the coverage of him calling people drug legalizers, Souder resorted to the very same tactic. "Your readers ought to know that Grim was previously employed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug legalization group," Souder wrote. "Grim is hardly an objective reporter." However, he did not contest any of the facts Grim reported. Grim's biography, including his past employment, is available at The Politico's web site.

Souder has clearly shown himself to be a dogged defender of his creation. If only the Democrats had shown the same fortitude in fighting to repeal it, advocates complained. "It's disheartening that a huge chorus of experts in substance abuse and education, as well as tens of thousands of students are calling for repeal, and Congress still hasn't listened," said Tom Angell, director of government relations for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, one of the point groups in the campaign.

Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, was less diplomatic. "By not changing this counterproductive policy, Democrats are saying that tens of thousands of students should be kicked out of college and denied an education," he said. "The American people have moved beyond the drug war hysteria of the 1980s, but many Democrats still don't realize this," said Piper. "They're afraid reforming draconian drug laws will make them look soft on crime, even though polling shows that voters are tired of punitive policies and want change." Democrats had "chickened out," he said.

In the House committee last week, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) spoke eloquently about the injustice of the HEA drug provision, but then withdrew his amendment to kill it, noting that the Chair was not prepared to hear amendments that would have financial implications.

"Denying students aid for drug-related charges is simply bad policy," said Scott. "It increases long-term costs to society. It unfairly targets poor and minority students -- minority students because they are traditionally profiled for drug offenses, and poor students because those are the ones that need financial aid to attend school. It only does drug offenses. It doesn't do anything against armed robbery, rape or arson. And so it's somewhat bizarre in its application and it creates a double jeopardy for students who have already paid their debt to society."

Scott then asked that a list of the more than 500 organizations supporting repeal be entered into the congressional record, and then he withdrew his motion. "Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, as you've indicated, you're not considering amendments that would have to be scored financially and because of that, Mr. Chairman, I will withdraw this amendment at the end of the debate, because we do not have an offset."

Then, after Chairman Miller -- to advocates' consternation -- congratulated Souder for his persistence in scaling back the law, Souder introduced the pair of amendments mentioned above. "Without objection, both of these amendments will be accepted," Miller said, accepting them without having written copies before the members. "It's just a testimony to the extent to which we trust Mr. Souder's word here."

While activists are disheartened -- to put it mildly -- by the performance of the Democrats, they still see some faint hope for action later this session, and it could come because Souder, by introducing his amendments, will open the bill to discussion in conference committee. "Souder may have screwed up here," said SSDP's Angell. "Because the House version now has language modifying the penalty, that automatically makes it a topic for the conference committee."

While activists want outright repeal, they are pleased with this year's Souder amendments. "If Congressman Souder keeps working year after year to keep chipping away at his aid elimination penalty, he will end up doing our work for us," said Angell. "We encourage Souder in his continuing effort to scale back his own creation."

Full of It: Rep. Mark Souder Souder Gets Called on His Characterization of HEA Reform Supporters

In an effort to build support for retaining his pet project, the Higher Education Act's drug provision, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) sent a Dear Colleague letter around Capitol Hill. In that letter he accused the more than 500 academic, professional, religious, civil rights, addiction and recovery, and other organizations supporting the call to repeal the provision of all being drug legalizers.

While there's nothing wrong with being a "legalizer," the vast majority of those organizations do not fall into that category. Now, Souder is being called on it.

The drug provision, also known as the "Aid Elimination Penalty," denies financial aid for specified periods to students with drug convictions. It originally applied to any drug conviction in the student's past, but with Souder's support -- perhaps in order to save it from a growing chorus of critics -- it was amended last year to apply only to offenses committed while a student enrolled in school.

With consideration of repealing the law pending in the House Education & Labor Committee, Souder sent a "Dear Colleague" letter reading:

"I wanted to make you aware of an important provision in the current law that is facing assault by a small but determined coalition of drug-legalization groups," Souder wrote in the November 1 letter. "Before you are bombarded by the talking points of such groups, I wanted to make sure everyone has the facts straight," he wrote.

But some of the groups Souder called drug legalizers wanted to get the facts straight themselves. In their own letter to Souder, 16 of those organizations asked him to retract his statement and requested a meeting to explain to him directly why they oppose his law.

"We, the undersigned organizations, would like to assure you that the coalition supporting repeal of the Aid Elimination Penalty ranges far beyond 'drug-legalization groups,' said the letter. "Last week, over 160 organizations signed a letter to Education & Labor Committee Chairman George Miller and Ranking Member Buck McKeon calling for full repeal, bringing the total number of groups in opposition to the penalty to more than 500. These organizations represent a broad range of interests, including the areas of addiction treatment and recovery, civil rights, college administration and admissions, criminal justice, legal reform and faith leaders. The overwhelming majority of signatories of the letter to Chairman Miller and Ranking Member McKeon do not endorse drug legalization. As just a small sampling of such organizations, we, the undersigned, want to make clear that opposition to the [anti-drug provision] is not in any way dependent on support for broad drug legalization."

The signatories to the letter were the American Federation of Teachers, the American Friends Service Committee, the Coalition of Essential Schools, College Parents of America, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the International Nurses Society on Addictions, the National Association of Social Workers, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, National Education Association, the National Women's Health Network, the National Youth Rights Association, Therapeutic Communities of America, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, and the United States Student Association."

While some signatories and key organizers of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform might be called "legalizers," as the above list makes clear, you don't have to be a legalizer to understand the counterproductive impact of Souder's law.

News will be posted on DRCNet shortly about the outcome of amendments offered in the Ed/Labor Committee late Wednesday night.

Top Drug War Advocate Publicly Humiliates Himself

On Nov. 1, Congressman Mark Souder (R-Ind.) sent a letter to his colleagues in Congress accusing hundreds of mainstream public health and education organizations of supporting "drug legalization." Now 16 of these organizations are calling on Souder to retract his statement and agree to a sit-down meeting so they can explain what they are actually trying to do. Is Mark Souder insane? Why would he attack mainstream public charities? I'll explain.

In 1998, Mark Souder authored the Aid Elimination Penalty of the Higher Education Act, a law that denies financial aid to students with drug convictions. Since then, a massive coalition of public health, education, legal, and policy organizations has formed to oppose the law. Their arguments include:
1. College education is proven to reduce drug use. Therefore, forcing students out of college obviously and undeniably increases drug use overall.
2. The penalty only affects good students. If you’re getting bad grades you can’t get aid anyway.
3. Students arrested for drugs get punished in court. It’s not like they’re getting away with anything.
4. Taking away opportunities from students sends a message that we don't want them to succeed in life. Students must be encouraged, not pushed down.
5. The penalty disproportionately affects minorities due to disparities in drug arrests and convictions.
6. The penalty only targets low-income students. These are the very people the HEA is supposed to help.
7. Judges already have the authority to revoke financial aid if they think that's a good idea.
Rather than attempting to understand these persuasive arguments, Mark Souder simply attacked and disparaged his critics, calling them a "small but determined coalition of drug-legalization groups." He attempted to mislead his colleagues in Congress about the agenda of his opponents. And he did it because he's embarrassed that so many reputable organizations have condemned his terrible ideas.

It is no surprise that drug reform groups oppose the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty. StoptheDrugWar.org is one of them. But to attribute drug legalization sympathies to groups like the National Education Association and the United Methodist Church just makes Souder look like an idiot. His bizarre attacks have now earned him some unfavorable media attention at The Hill and The Politico. Beyond that, he's alienated all of the top organizations working on education and addiction issues; groups he'll have to work with so long as he continues to saunter around ignorantly fighting the drug problem.

It just tells you everything you need to know about Mark Souder to see him spit on organizations that work to educate America's youth and help people recovering from addiction. And it tells you everything you need to know about the drug war's political leaders that Mark Souder is highly regarded among them.
Location: 
United States

U.S. Government Encourages Drug Offenders to Choose the Army Instead of College

We can now add to our long and growing list of drug war grievances that this terrible crusade has become a fully functional army recruitment tool. The U.S. Military has changed its rules to make it easier for drug offenders to enlist. Meanwhile, the aid elimination penalty of the Higher Education Act denies federal financial aid to students with drug convictions. That's right, folks. The federal government thinks drug users don't belong in college, but has no problem sending them to die in Iraq.

Our friends at Students for Sensible Drug Policy have a great new video explaining the absurdity of all this:

Of course, we support the U.S. Military's new hiring policy. Past drug use should never be a factor in assessing a person's qualifications. But making it harder for drug offenders to go to school, while making it easier for them to join the army, is shockingly barbaric and hypocritical.

One can only hope that this bizarre situation may expose the fraudulent logic by which drug offenders are denied college aid to begin with. After all, military service is widely considered an honorable profession; one which requires great courage, character, and intelligence. The very notion that past drug users can serve their country in combat destroys the myth that these Americans are somehow handicapped because they took drugs.

Now that the U.S. government has acknowledged this principle in one self-serving context, it bears a powerful moral obligation to examine and abolish other forms of discrimination against drug users. Freedom, however one may choose to define it, cannot be defended so long as we arbitrarily injure and obstruct our fellow citizens over such petty indiscretions.
Location: 
United States

SSDP HEA Week of Action

Within the next few months, the US House of Representatives will decide whether or not to continue denying financial aid to students with drug convictions. This is our chance to take this awful law off the books once and for all. We're being counted on by nearly 200,000 students who have been affected by the law, and by countless more who will be affected if we don't repeal it. That's why it's essential that every SSDP chapter band together and participate in the HEA Week of Action on October 15-19. Prior to the Week of Action, SSDP's national staff will send postcards and phone scripts that you can use to generate written communication and phone calls to Congress. But if you're feeling creative, we'd love for you to do something exciting to generate media around the issue. Visit http://www.ssdp.org/weekofaction for further information.
Date: 
Mon, 10/15/2007 - 10:00am - Fri, 10/19/2007 - 6:00pm
Location: 
United States

Students: Intern at DRCNet and Help Stop the Drug War!

Want to help end the "war on drugs," while earning college credit too? Apply for a DRCNet internship for this fall semester (or spring) and you could come join the team and help us fight the fight!

DRCNet (also known as "Stop the Drug War") has a strong record of providing substantive work experience to our interns -- you won't spend the summer doing filing or running errands, you will play an integral role in one or more of our exciting programs. Options for work you can do with us include coalition outreach as part of the campaign to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, and to expand that effort to encompass other bad drug laws like the similar provisions in welfare and public housing law; blogosphere/web outreach; media research and outreach; web site work (research, writing, technical); possibly other areas. If you are chosen for an internship, we will strive to match your interests and abilities to whichever area is the best fit for you.

While our internships are unpaid, we will reimburse you for metro fare, and DRCNet is a fun and rewarding place to work. To apply, please send your resume to David Guard at [email protected], and feel free to contact us at (202) 293-8340. We hope to hear from you! Check out our web site at http://stopthedrugwar.org to learn more about our organization.

Report: Life Sentences: Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses

The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics has released an important new report, "Life Sentences: Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses," detailing the range of extra penalties that people with marijuana convictions can continue to suffer even after their criminal punishment is completed, including state-by-state summaries. According to CCLE: "Our latest study examines the true impact of a marijuana conviction. A misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana can trigger automatic bars on educational aid, a bar on serving as a foster parent, denial of federal housing assistance, revocation or suspension of occupational licenses, suspension of one’s driver’s license, and much more."
Location: 
United States

Feature: Move to Undo Higher Education Act Drug Provision Passes Senate Committee

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) passed legislation Wednesday that among other things would remove the infamous "drug question" from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the form used by tens of millions of students each year to apply for college financial aid, leaving opponents of the drug conviction/financial aid ban optimistic of winning repeal this year.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/capitolsenateside.jpg
US Capitol
The Higher Education Access Act of 2007, budget reconciliation legislation that at the time of this publishing did not yet appear to have a bill number, includes language stating that "The Secretary shall not require a student to provide information regarding the student's possession or sale of a controlled substance on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or any other financial reporting form described in section 483(a)." While the drug provision itself would remain on the books, the mechanism currently used for enforcing it -- and the only obvious mechanism for enforcing it -- would be eliminated by order of Congress.

The provision, in effect since the 2000-2001 school year, bars students with drug convictions from receiving college financial aid for specified periods of time. Since then, more than 200,000 would-be students have been barred from receiving federal financial aid after answering "yes" to the drug question.

Until last year, the provision authored by ardent drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) applied to any drug conviction. But following a campaign by students and more than 330 health, civil rights, criminal justice, education, and religious organizations organized under the umbrella of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), and extensive criticism of the law in the mainstream media, Souder and others moved to have it scaled back to apply only to offenses committed while the applicants were in school and receiving federal Title IV aid. Buoyed by the Democratic takeover of Congress in last November's elections, which put repeal supporters in charge of key Congressional committees, reformers continued to lobby for outright repeal of the provision this year.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/fafsa.jpg
FAFSA form
That's not quite what happened in the Senate HELP Committee Wednesday. Instead of repealing the provision outright, the committee voted to remove the drug question from the FAFSA. The measure passed easily as part of the education bill sponsored by the chairman and ranking member of HELP, powerful Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Michael Enzi (R-WY).

"We're thrilled that the committee has acted to make sure that students with drug convictions will no longer be automatically stripped of their aid and will be able to stay in school and on the path to success," said Tom Angell, government relations director at Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization whose very existence was inspired by the HEA drug provision. "While it would be more appropriate to simply erase the penalty from the law books altogether, we support the committee's effort to make sure that students with drug convictions can get aid just like anyone else."

"CHEAR is ecstatic," said David Guard, a spokesman for coalition. "It's looking likely that our nine years of hard work are about to pay off in a big way." The HEA drug provision had always been Rep. Souder's baby and Souder's alone, according to Guard. "This has always basically been one moralizing man's crusade," he said. "While we've managed to put together a really broad-based coalition, Souder has mostly been out there alone on this one."

The Senate is one thing, but repealing or changing the law also requires action in the House of Representatives. According to SSDP's Angell, the prospects look very good there indeed.

"We fully expect the HEA reauthorization bill in the House will include full repeal," he said, citing the support of key committee members who support it led by House Education and Labor Committee chairman Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and including Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Danny Davis (D-IL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and Rob Andrews (D-NJ).

If repeal language survives the process in the House, as seems likely, it will still require action in a joint congressional conference committee. Such a committee will have to reconcile any differences between the House and Senate legislation, including the difference between repeal and mere removal of the question from the form. Also, repeal language on the House side is more likely to appear in the HEA reauthorization bill, not in budget reconciliation as happened in the Senate.

"It's a little confusing right now how all that is going to play out," said Angell. "Will there be one conference for the reauthorization bill and one for the budget? We don't know yet," he said. But in either case, Angell was fairly optimistic that outright repeal could be achieved. "We think the Senate HELP committee has expressed its intent to not see this penalty enforced anymore, so with full repeal language in the House, we'll be in a good position to really, finally achieve repeal."

But that's getting a little bit ahead of the game. While chances are good for HEA drug provision repeal this year, it isn't a done deal yet, and there is always Souder lurking in the wings. "There is still a lot of work to be done," said Angell. "We have to make sure there are no hostile amendments on the floor, and Souder is still on the committee. He's sure to offer an amendment, and we need to be arming our allies in Congress with the information they need to defeat that amendment."

Nevertheless, reformers consider the situation to be highly promising. If repeal happens this year, it will be the first time that a federal drug law has been repealed since 1970. Let's hope that's a harbinger of other good things yet to come.

Court Asked to Revive Challenge to Student Loan Restrictions

Location: 
Pierre, SD
United States
Publication/Source: 
Sioux City Journal
URL: 
http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/articles/2007/04/18/news/south_dakota/72ed44ec187db074862572c1000f281d.prt

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