Letter to the House on Needle Exchange in D.C. Appropriations Bill

D.C. Appropriations Debate Continues Tomorrow  

Vote "NO" on the Two Anti-Needle Exchange Amendments
Vote "NO" on Final Passage If Either Amendment Passes

September 6, 2000  

Dear Representative:  

Tomorrow morning, the House will renew its perennial attack on democracy in the District of Columbia. Last year, the President had to veto the D.C. Appropriations bill twice because of anti-democracy riders. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly urges you to avoid such conflicts this year by rejecting all anti-democracy amendments.  

The ACLU urges you to support 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 two amendments to the District of Columbia Appropriations bill that will further undermine the District's already limited democracy.  

The Tiahrt Amendment would effectively bar all needle exchange programs, while the Souder Amendment would bar the District of Columbia from spending its own funds on needle exchange programs. Congress has not imposed these requirements on any other state or local government. By stripping the District of Columbia of the right to make the same health care decisions made by every other state, the two amendments harm the District of Columbia's fragile democracy and should be defeated.  

These amendments jeopardize the entire D.C. Appropriations bill. In fact:  

  • A bipartisan majority of the House Appropriations Committee voted against the Tiahrt Amendment and voted to strip the provisions of the Souder Amendment from the bill before reporting the legislation.     
  • Like last year, the Administration has indicated its strong opposition to this bill if it includes anti-democracy riders such as the Souder and Tiahrt Amendments.

The Tiahrt and Souder Anti-Needle Exchange Amendments  

The Bill Already Bans Federal Funds for Needle Exchange in the District of Columbia  

The D.C. Appropriations bill already bans all federal funds for needle exchange programs in the District of Columbia. The Souder Amendment bars the District of Columbia's use of its own money--and the Tiahrt Amendment goes even further by restricting even privately-funded programs.  

The Tiahrt Amendment Effectively Bans All Needle Exchange Programs  

The Tiahrt Amendment will end all effective public health programs providing needle exchanges. Although its prohibition against any programs operating within 1,000 feet of certain public places may not seem overly restrictive, it will have a devastating effect in an urban area. It will bar the program from every problem area in the District. The only remaining locations will be an Air Force base, a cemetery, a nursing home, a mental hospital, and a few affluent neighborhoods.  

No State Is Prohibited By Federal Law From Developing Their Own Needle Exchange Programs  

The Tiahrt and Souder amendments would impose federal requirements on the District that do not apply to any state in our nation. It would exert federal control over the District of Columbia's public health decisions--decisions now made independently by each of the fifty states. In fact, using state, local, or private funds, needle exchange programs operate in more than 80 cities in 30 states.  

Many States Fund Needle Exchange Programs with Their Own Dollars  

Current federal practice already bars any federal funds for needle exchange programs. However, the states can make their own public health decision on whether to use their own funds to finance such programs. Many states use their funds for that purpose.  

The Tiahrt and Souder Amendments Threaten Private Programs That Work  

The Tiahrt and Souder Amendments are targeted at privately-funded organizations that operate needle exchange programs that work. During the last few years, these programs have reached an estimated 2,000 injection drug users in the District of Columbia, and have reduced needle sharing among participants by two-thirds, thus greatly reducing the risk of HIV transmission. Additionally, all drug users were provided free HIV tests, as well as information on substance abuse, treatment and rehabilitation.  

The Tiahrt and Souder Amendments Endanger Lives  

Commandeering the District's public health program will endanger lives. The District of Columbia has one of the highest incidences of HIV infection in the country, with almost 66 percent of new cases related to intravenous drug use. This form of transmission of the HIV virus represents a very serious threat to public health. At least seven federally funded studies have held that needle exchange programs can help stop the spread of AIDS without increasing drug use. In Connecticut, for example, needle exchange programs have reduced the percentage of intravenous drug users who share used syringes from 52 percent to 32 percent. Needle exchange programs save lives.  

Other Anti-Democracy Riders  

The Tiahrt and Souder Amendments are two proposed additions to an already long list of anti-democracy riders already included in the D.C. Appropriations bill. The bill once again adds a prohibition against the District of Columbia funding its domestic partnership law, which is less expansive than similar laws enacted by scores of cities and counties across the country. It also renews an annual ban on local funds for carrying out the provisions of a voter referendum approving the medical use of marijuana--which passed in every voting district in the District of Columbia. And it includes a provision that tries to nullify D.C. Council-passed contraceptive coverage legislation. That provision was added before Mayor Anthony Williams even had a chance to act on the legislation. Since the Mayor vetoed the bill, the provision is now moot, although it is still offensive to democracy in the District.  

Again, we urge you to draw the line on any further harm to democracy in the District of Columbia by voting NO on the Tiahrt and Souder Amendments and voting NO on final passage if either amendment is added to the bill. Please

Very truly yours,  

Laura W. Murphy
Washington National Office  

Christopher E. Anders
Legislative Counsel
Washington National Office 

Mary Jane DeFrank
Executive Director
ACLU of the National Capital Area 

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