- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2000

A joint House and Senate conference committee yesterday approved legislation that would permit needle-exchange programs to continue in the District of Columbia within certain limitations.

The committee agreed on an amendment to the District's $445.5 million appropriations bill that will make it a crime to conduct needle-exchange programs within 1,000 feet of schools and will direct the D.C. housing police to watch over programs near public housing.

No federal or local money can go toward funding needle-exchange programs.

"I think we have worked particularly hard to bring people together," said Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of House Appropriations subcommittee on the District. "This was dealing with the drug-free-zone issue, not a funding issue."

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican, had sponsored an amendment that essentially would have shut down all needle-exchange programs in the District.

"There is a clear choice of whether we are going to protect children or protect drug addicts," Mr. Tiahrt said during the conference.

The legislation calls for the District to "ascertain any concerns of the residents of any public-housing site about any needle-exchange program." Those complaints then would be forwarded to city officials who must decide whether to relocate the needle-exchange program.

Currently, four of the 10 programs now operating will have to move because they are within 1,000 feet of a school.

Other amendments for banning the use of city funds to sue Congress for voting rights and outlawing the legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal use, remained in the bill because they had been in previous funding bills.

In addition, the conference bill reconciled spending differences between House and Senate versions of the $4.8 billion D.C. budget, which Congress will vote on next week. It provides $31 million more than the House had offered in federal funds to the District.

President Clinton, who is expected to sign the measure, had asked for nearly the same amount the conference provided.

The conference bill would provide:

n $25 million for a new Metro station on New York Avenue.

n $1 million for Saint Coletta, a school that serves mentally retarded children and is moving from Alexandria, Va., to the District.

n $500,000 for the Children's National Medical Center satellite center in Anacostia.

n $500,000 for Safe Shores, a child advocacy center that helps abused and neglected children.

n $250,000 for the Special Olympics.

The committee included $3.45 million for environmental cleanup of "brownfields" environmentally tainted sites that usually have been abandoned by the companies that used them which the House had not included in its bill. The conference bill also would raise the cap for lawyer fees in special-education cases and provide $17 million for college tuition-assistance programs for D.C. children.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat and a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said it was "sad" the way the committee wants to control the District's ability to govern itself.

"Of all the criminal problems in this city, to have the police arresting children for possession of cigarettes does not seem like the best use of public-safety resources," Mr. Moran said of a rider that bans tobacco use by persons under 18.

• John Godfrey contributed to this report.

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