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Riders Scraped From D.C. Appropriations Bill

District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton issued a press release this afternoon trumpeting the removal of several amendments from the bill funding the District of Columbia government.

The add-ons would have limited the scope of some of the programs that use the funding, including one that would have maintained a ban on using funds to help poor women get abortions, and others banning referendums on medical marijuana and altering the city's gun laws.

One rider that remained on the bill could severely curtail a needle exchange program, which the city is pursuing in the hopes of reducing HIV infections. Norton said she hoped to get that amendment removed when the bill went to the House-Senate joint committee.

Read the full press release after the jump.

After years of work, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) yesterday succeeded in getting the House to rid the D.C. Appropriations bill of all riders, except for one change to the needle exchange program, which she believes she can get removed in conference. As Congress was passing the FY 2010 District of Columbia appropriation bill yesterday, the Congresswoman spoke on the floor, first on the Rule and then on the bill to fight off a major Republican effort to re-insert an abortion rider that Norton had gotten the Appropriations Committee to eliminate. Anti-abortion organizations scored the Rule against Members who supported the Rule for consideration of the bill that eliminated the abortion attachment, and, for a few minutes, a majority appeared to support this position. With the help of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), a few votes were changed, and the rider was eliminated. Failure of the vote on the Rule would have kept the Financial Services Appropriation, of which D.C. Appropriations is a small part, from proceeding. "That was a call that was too close for comfort, and shows why this was the last rider to go," Norton said. "Poor women in this city and the District itself have paid an enormous price for this outrageous ban on the use of local funds for abortions for poor women, a ban imposed only on the District of Columbia."

After Democrats took control of Congress last session, Norton succeeded in removing two notorious appropriations riders banning use of local funds for needle exchange and for lobbying for D.C. voting rights for the District of Columbia, but she vowed to continue until she removed all the D.C. riders. However, the Appropriations Committee accepted an amendment that had been characterized as barring the needle exchange program near schools, already a D.C. requirement. The full text of the amendment, in fact, included so many other places, such as parks, that the operation of the program would be severely curtailed. "We must, and I believe we can, restore this program to its full strength, as Congress did last year," Norton said.

This year, in addition to the abortion ban, Norton was successful in removing the last of the old riders on the use of local funds: a ban on using the results of a referendum to determine whether marijuana should be used for medical purposes in the District, and a ban on the District's first domestic partnership registration and benefits law, that remained, although long-ago replaced by a stronger D.C. domestic partnership law. The Rules Committee also kept several riders from reaching the floor, including riders altering the District's gun laws, and expanding the D.C. private school voucher program, which Congress imposed on the District several years ago.

The D.C. Appropriations involves mostly D.C. funds, but also includes $768 million in federal funds for state functions that Congress agreed to pay for in the Revitalization Act, including courts to bring the city out of its 1990's economic crisis. Significant appropriations for several of Norton's priorities for the District also are in the bill: just over $35 million for the Tuition Assistance Grant program (DCTAG); $62 million for public and charter schools that Norton got when a voucher program was forced on the District; $19 million for housing for the homeless in the District; and $20 million to control sewer overflow, which contributes significantly to Anacostia River pollution. Norton also got several ear marks for key projects to help the city, in this appropriation: $150,000 to expand educational programs at the National Building Museum; $100,000 for the Whitman Walker Clinic to provide healthcare services for those living with HIV and AIDS; $150,000 for the Samaritan Ministry of Greater Washington to maintain and expand critical programs for the homeless; $100,000 for the Youth Power Center for tutoring and mentoring program expansion; and $50,000 to fund upgrades to Washington Hospital Center's Intensive Care Unit and emergency assistance.

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  July 17, 2009; 4:04 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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