After a day of contentious debate, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the fiscal 2002 Appropriations bill for the District of Columbia.
The bill provides $7.2 billion for the District budget, including funds for education, emergency response systems, family courts and improvements in District parks. The measure passed 75-24 with two amendments.
Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, sponsored an amendment barring the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs. The amendment was debated briefly but was never formally voted on because Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat and chairman of the Senate subcommittee on D.C. appropriations, offered to table the amendment. While three Democrats, Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia, voted to bring the amendment to the floor, five Republicans voted against it and the vote to table it passed 53-47.
“It’s a common sense health issue,” said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican, regarding his vote to table the Allen legislation. He said that because of the direct correlation between HIV/AIDS and needle use, the government has to allow different ways to treat the problem. He was joined by Republican Sens. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania, John Ensign, Nevada , Susan Collins, Maine, and Gordon H. Smith, Oregon, in voting with the Democrats.
Mr. Allen was pleased with the narrow margin and hoped the amendment would be a part of the final version reported out of the conference committee.
“It sends a bad message to the jurisdiction you are responsible for when you would condone giving syringes to drug addicts,” he said. “I am not persuaded that it does any good.”
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat and nonvoting congressional representative, was pleased with the final vote and hopes the conference report, expected in the coming weeks, does not include the Allen language.
“We will fight hard to maintain the Senate language, and the House should [defer] to the Senate and the bipartisan bill that passed,” she said. The House version, approved in September, includes a needle-exchange provision.
The other issue at hand was an amendment offered by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, to cap the fees paid to lawyers representing children with special needs. Proponents argued that the cap is necessary to ensure lawyers don’t take advantage of the system. Mrs. Hutchison told of one law firm charging $5 million in legal services that included flowers and a trip to New Orleans.
Opponents, however, argued that the city’s poorest children would be those most affected, not the lawyers. The legislation passed 51-49.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, immediately offered legislation that would exclude children who come from households making less than $17,000 a year, children whose parents are disabled, and children who have been adjudicated as being neglected. This measure was passed 73-26.