- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

In the District, voters will face two ballot questions on Nov. 5 Initiative 62 and an Advisory Referendum A. Both have considerable fiscal, legal and social consequences. Advisory Referendum A misleads voters into thinking a simple victory at the polls and, presto, they will soon start electing a district attorney. And, at first blush, Initiative 62 appears well-intentioned. But it's what the voters aren't told that is particularly troubling.

Proponents think Initiative 62 is key to helping junkies and pushers who can't overcome their addictions. Do not be fooled. The District already has a drug court that monitors substance-abuse offenders, and there already is D.C. legislation on the books that provides treatment on demand. Another problem is that Initiative 62 calls for creating a new bureaucracy within the D.C. Department of Health. But the most troublesome aspect of Initiative 62 is that it essentially is a get-out-of-jail-free card. If approved by voters, the initiative would shut out the courts and allow bureaucrats in the Health Department to settle all disputes regarding treatment. For example, an offender hooked on cocaine or PCP who broke the law would be sent into rehab even though he may have robbed, stolen or committed other crimes to feed his habit. Moreover, if the offender relapses, misses treatment or gets into trouble, a bureaucrat in the Health Department could only kick him out of the program as a last resort. Judges are not so lenient.

An estimated 90 percent of drug offenders in the current drug-court program faced at least one sanction, and about half necessarily spend time in jail. Prosecutors and judges agree: The prospect of sanctions, including jail time, are critical tenets of maintaining effective drug-treatment programs. In other words, reward good behavior and punish bad behavior.

Initiative 62, with its financial costs for leniency and new bureaucracies, would place families and taxpayers smack in the middle of dangerous consequences. This is a bad idea. Vote no on Initiative 62.

Advisory Referendum A is not as benign as it appears. While its chief instigator D.C. Council member David Catania, at-large Republican touts it as "an enormous expansion of home rule," the bottom line is that the very idea of an elected district attorney has unimaginable fiscal and social consequences.

"The city would most likely have to take back responsibility of paying for its courts, constructing a prison … and developing its own marshals," Joseph diGenova, former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said. He also likened the potential costs to adding several new school systems to the D.C. budget. With the current school budget an unprecedented $743 million, it's frightening to think how Mr. Catania and other proponents could dare conceive such a costly "expansion of home rule."

Also egregious is the utterly misleading summary text that voters will see at the polls. It neither spells out the points made by Mr. diGenova, nor mentions another crucial fact: Even if the referendum is approved by voters, Congress still must pass and the president must sign enabling legislation to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act. The District does not presently have, nor will it have in the foreseeable future, the tax base to sustain its own courts, prison and prosecuting authority. And in whose back yard would the prison be built? Vote no on Advisory Referendum A.

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