New Analysis of the Revised Barr Anti-Democracy Amendment to D.C. Appropriations

Document Date: July 29, 1999

D.C. Appropriations Debate Starts Today

New Analysis of the Revised
Barr Anti-Democracy Amendment

To: All members of the House of Representatives

FROM: Laura W. Murphy, Director
Christopher E. Anders, Legislative Counsel

DATE: July 29, 1999

RE: New Analysis of the Revised Barr Anti-Democracy Amendment to the D.C. Appropriations Bill

This memorandum supplements the American Civil Liberties Union’s earlier letter urging you to vote “NO” on the Largent anti-adoption amendment, “NO” on the Tiahrt anti-needle exchange amendment, and “NO” on the Barr anti-democracy amendment to the D.C. Appropriations bill.

After a strong bipartisan vote against the original Barr amendment last week in the full Appropriations Committee, Congressman Barr revised his amendment. However, it continues to undermine the democratic process by trying to stop a voter referendum held last November from having the effect that it would have if held by any one of the fifty states. In fact, the revised Barr amendment adds several new problems to most of the problems caused by the original Barr anti-democracy amendment. For that reason, the ACLU strongly urges you to vote “NO” on it.

The Revised Barr Amendment May Undermine Appropriate Sentencing

The awkwardly drafted Barr amendment may undermine sentencing by misleading prosecutors and courts into believing that they cannot reduce drug sentences for such routine matters as the defendant’s cooperation with the prosecution, successful completion of drug rehabilitation, medical necessity, or need to care for a minor dependent. The phrase “otherwise reduce penalties associated with” drug possession or use is clearly overbroad and may tie the hands of courts and prosecutors.

The Revised Barr Amendment Does Not Specify the Prohibited Activities

By vaguely prohibiting funds “used to enact or carry out” a group of laws, the revised Barr amendment causes confusion about the continued availability of legal, prescription drugs. A tetrahydrocannabinols derivative, sold under the name Marinol, may be prescribed legally by physicians for the relief of extremely painful symptoms. The revised Barr amendment may mislead the District or physicians into believing that the law authorizing the use of prescription drugs such as Marinol is “carrying out” a prohibited reduction in penalties.

The Congress Already Has Extraordinary Powers to Stop D.C. Legislation

There is no reason for Congress to interfere with a referendum process before the votes have even been counted and certified. Although the use of its oversight powers over the District of Columbia is always unwise, the Congress already has (i) the opportunity to veto any new law, including a law enacted by a referendum; (ii) the opportunity for Congress to repeal any part of the D.C. Code; and (iii) the opportunity for Congress to enact any law that it wants for the District of Columbia. The Congress has no reason to interfere with a referendum at such an early stage.

The District of Columbia Should Have the Same Self-Determination Rights As the States

The Congress should continue its recent record of supporting the right of District of Columbia residents and their elected officials to debate and decide for themselves the same policy questions that each of the fifty states may debate and decide for themselves. We ask that you vote against all amendments to the District of Columbia Appropriations bill that will undermine the District’s already limited democracy.

The Revised Barr Amendment Could Jeopardize the Entire D.C. Appropriations Bill. In fact:

  • The House Appropriations Committee voted against the original Barr amendment.
  • The Senate-passed version of the bill does not contain any version of the Barr amendment.
  • The President’s senior advisors are likely to recommend a veto of the bill if it contains the revised Barr amendment.

Again, we urge you to allow the District of Columbia to have the same power that every state has to make its own public policy decisions.

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