Pubdate: Fri, 31 Jul 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: B01
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: Darryl Fears, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Restrictive Amendment to City's Appropriation Would Cover Most of City

When Congress lifted a 10-year ban on using D.C. tax dollars to 
provide clean needles to drug addicts in December 2007, it gave the 
city a powerful weapon in the fight against the spread of AIDS, 
according to health officials.

"We had a celebration," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

But the party could be ending.

This week, Norton and other D.C. officials were racing to persuade 
congressional leaders to erase a House amendment that would 
essentially reinstate the ban.

The amendment to the bill that gives the District its federal 
appropriation for 2010 would prohibit the city from providing money 
to any needle exchange program that operates within 1,000 feet of 
virtually any location where children gather.

"It essentially wipes out the program," said Norton, who added that 
she is calling "my friends in the Senate," asking them to be on the 
lookout for a copycat amendment to the Senate's version of the bill, 
which is still in committee.

Last week, a copycat amendment was attached to a separate House bill. 
It would lift a 21-year ban that prohibits cities from using federal 
dollars to fund needle exchange programs.

But D.C. officials are more concerned with the bill that covers the 
District's appropriation, because its restriction cuts deeper than 
the federal ban. The District, whose budget is overseen by Congress, 
would again be the only city in the nation barred from allocating 
both local and federal tax dollars to distribute clean needles.

If the Senate does not include a similar amendment in its version of 
the bill, members would iron out their differences in a conference 
committee after Congress returns from its August recess. That's where 
D.C. officials and AIDS activists hope to kill the amendment.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city will fight to ensure "that 
the needle exchange amendment is stripped from the final 
appropriations bill for this budget year as well."

With that goal, D.C. Council President Vincent C. Gray ordered a map 
to show that the amendment -- which would prohibit the allocation of 
funds to needle exchange programs near schools, day-care centers, 
pools, parks, arcades, colleges and other locations -- covers all but 
small pockets of the city.

"I don't see how any site can operate with those kinds of 
restrictions," said Flora Hamilton, executive director of Family and 
Medical Counseling Services, which has distributed more than 100,000 
clean needles during the past year from its site near Anacostia Park.

The city first funded needle exchange programs in April 2008. "We did 
not have a needle exchange program before we got funded by the 
District," Hamilton said. "It would just be impossible to operate."

The city's federal relations director, who works in Gray's office, 
handed out the maps to appropriations committee members in both 
houses of Congress and urged them to fight the amendment, said Gray's 
spokeswoman, Doxie McCoy.

The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), said he did not 
receive a map or a call from the city. "If my staff has heard from 
any of the opponents of this, they haven't shared it with me," he said.

Kingston said he sponsored the amendment because "children should not 
be out playing kickball and watching people exchange needles for 
illegal drug use" but that he's open to discussing the matter.

"I was surprised," Kingston said, that Norton didn't approach him 
after the amendment was offered during an appropriations committee 
hearing. "It's possible that she thought that some of these groups 
reached out to me," he said.

Norton bristled at Kingston's remark. She said the congressman 
misrepresented the amendment in his original announcement, saying it 
would only restrict needle exchanges within 1,000 feet of schools, 
which is already prohibited by D.C. law.

"The next day, we look at the amendment, and it has all these other 
things," she said.

A spokesman for Kingston said the congressman clearly spelled out the 
amendment's full intent and passed out a copy at the appropriations 
hearing that Norton attended.

"Everyone in the community knows I wouldn't do anything but try to 
get it off," Norton said. "We will continue to fight to bring the 
bill back to where the House and the Senate left it two years ago." 
In 2007, the House and Senate gave the District authority to use D.C. 
tax dollars for needle exchange funding.

"This is my first priority because of the relationship of needle 
exchange to our HIV rate. It's the reason our rate is above cities 
like Baltimore and New York," Norton said. "I am shocked that . . . 
we have to replay this story."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake