US Senate kills bill to restore voting
rights to ex-felons
An amendment in election legislation to restore voting rights to ex-felons was defeated in the US Senate in early-February. The Senate defeated proposed amendments to election-reform legislation that would have returned voting rights to millions of convicted felons and provided paid leaves for federal employees to serve as election-day poll workers, according to a report by Reuters news service.
The action came as the Senate moved toward anticipated passage of bipartisan legislation that would implement one of the biggest overhauls ever of the nation's election system. The Senate rejected, 31-63, a proposed amendment that would have enabled convicted felons to get back their right to vote after they have served their sentences and completed probation and parole.
Sens. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, offered the ex-felon amendment, saying they wanted to "restore fairness.'' They also argued that permitting convicted felons to again vote would help in the rehabilitation process.
There are an estimated 3.9 million people in the United States, one in 50 adults, who cannot vote as a result of felony convictions. Most of their Senate colleagues, many of whom are up for re-election this year, were unswayed and voted no on the amendment. Sens. Reid and Specter deserve respect for introducing this legislation, but the 63 Senators who refused to support this act of fairness should garner only public criticism.
Here are the last names of each Senator and how he or she voted:
YEAS - 31
In mid-January, President George W. Bush put his name on some special legislation worth $25 million. The new initiative directed at children of prisoners establishes a program called Mentoring Children of Prisoners to provide guidance through networks of community organizations, including religious organizations.
Funding will be available in 2003. No details yet have been released on how to apply for funding. This is part of the President's Armies of Compassion initiative, and it represents the first comprehensive Federal support for critically important outreach to an extremely vulnerable group.
Through competitive grants, mentoring organizations will work to provide academic and emotional support and guidance to ensure that thousands of these vulnerable children have a strong, positive adult role model.
For further information on the President's announcement and
bill signing, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020117-6.html.
From The Week Online, DRCNet, February 8, 2002
The Bush administration in February presented its proposed 2003 drug budget as part of its overall 2003-budget proposal. While some programs saw increases in funding and some saw decreases, anti-drug spending by the federal government will be essentially unchanged from this year, if the budget proposal passes intact. Overall federal drug control funding will total $19.2 billion in the 2003 budget, a 2% increase over the current year. That increase, which barely keeps up with the rate of inflation, is in line with budget growth in other federal government spending.
"This is the drug war on autopilot," said Kevin Zeese, executive director of Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org), a Washington-based drug reform group. "With new drug czar John Walters, I thought we might see some change-not necessarily for the better-but I guess not," he told DRCNet.
While the federal drug control profile remains essentially unchanged, there are some programmatic winners and some losers. President Bush's war in Colombia, funded as the Andean Regional Initiative, will see spending increase 17% to $731 million in 2003. And with the president's new-found commitment to volunteerism in the wake of September 11, funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service will see a 53% increase, to $14 million. Similarly, Bush's community policing initiative will see a 53% increase, to $653 million.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the federal drug
war's lead agency, also will get more money, with the $1.7 billion
budgeted for 2003 representing a 6% increase over this year.
The US Coast Guard, whose drug interdiction efforts have been
hampered by other priorities since September 11, will see a 16%
The inclusion of places like South Dakota in HIDTAs may be more related to the power of South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle as Senate majority leader than to extremely high levels of drug trafficking. The HIDTA program seems to have become a new form of pork barrel politics, with standard boilerplate justifications that the presence of a highway, a railroad, an airport, or a seaport represents "a possible drug trafficking route."
Even the drug czar's office hints at agreement. "Much of the increase in the HIDTA program is a result of congressional direction of funds to specific HIDTAs," it wrote in its introduction to the drug budget. "However, there are questions about whether some of these areas deserve to be designated as HIDTAs. No systematic evaluation of the HIDTA program has been conducted and no credible performance measures have been developed." The 2003 drug budget will cut HIDTA spending by 9% for a total next year of $206 million.
Other losers in the 2003 drug budget are bureaucratic coordinating mechanisms such as the Intelligence Community Management Account, down 20%, and the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, down a whopping 68% from nearly a billion dollars this year to only $309 million next year. Drug treatment will see a funding boost, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Targeted Capacity Expansion program getting an additional $110 million and the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program, which provides funding for state prevention and treatment services, getting a $60 million dollar increase.
In the words of the budget introduction, "The majority of those who need treatment do not seek it voluntarily." The Bush drug budget includes $77 million for grants to states for prison-based drug treatment programs and $52 million for the Drug Courts program, which it lauds as "forcing abstinence from drugs and altering behavior with escalating sanctions, mandatory drug testing, treatment, and strong aftercare programs."
"This is a significant increase, but it doesn't affect the overall posture of the budget," said Bill McColl, legislative analyst for Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org), formerly The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation). "The amount of money going to law enforcement and source country interdiction remains at about 70% of the drug budget, while treatment and prevention remain at about 30%, he told DRCNet. "This is the same old policy we've seen for the last 30 years." Additionally, the amount of treatment funding ending up as coerced treatment could be even higher than the budget indicates, McColl added. "These guys are really into coerced treatment, and some of the block grants to the states could well end up going to coerced treatment programs," he said.
CDSP's Zeese also criticized the treatment spending, "It is a real increase, but much of it is tied to coercion-treatment by police choice - and it is also very much faith-based. Both of these will hurt treatment by making it less professional and less effective."
Finally, the 2003 federal drug budget anticipates significant increases in funds derived from asset forfeitures. The Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Fund, for example, is looking forward to seizing $430 million dollars during the coming budget year, a 19% increase from this year.
"I've heard of a few towns in California trying to write
projected seizure profits into their budgets," said McColl.
"Here we have the federal government leading by example."
To help curb the problem of illegal drugs, President Bush has decided to "make an unprecedented investment in demand reduction" in the United States, claims John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Walters was speaking in Colombia, South America on January 16 where he spoke with selected reporters.
With a completely straight face and no hint of irony, the Czar told reporters, "The United States intends to begin to radically reduce the demand for drugs in our nation as part of a comprehensive policy that addresses issues of domestic drug consumption as well as predominantly foreign sources of supply."
Toward that dubious end, Walters says the president will pledge $1.6 billion over a five-year period to fund treatment programs for drug addicts. He noted that "we are also going to expand our prevention efforts" in the United States, and President Bush "wants to be personally involved in leading some of those efforts." Does this mean the world will soon learn how Bush and brother Jeb are humanely handling their own addicted children who have been prominent in news stories recently?
More important, will the Bush Brothers led by their troubled children now call for a change of heart in the 'zero-tolerance' U.S. culture so they can be seen as reform leaders in our country's well documented need for effective and humane drug policies for all affected families?
For Colombians and the Andean region there was nothing new
in Walters' words to show any new U.S. initiative or understanding.
An honest and comprehensive review of U.S. drug policies would
lead the Czar to the same conclusion most of Latin America now
favors: eliminate prohibition laws, legalize and regulate as
needed, treat addicts with compassion and stop fumigating, relocating
and murdering peasants who grow coca or other traditional plants.
On March 8th, 2002 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court granted the hemp industry's Motion to Stay the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA's) "interpretive" rule, which was issued October 9, 2001 without public notice or opportunity for comment and would have banned the sale of nutritious hemp foods containing harmless trace amounts of naturally-occurring THC under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970.
The Motion to Stay was brought jointly by the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and several major hemp food companies in the U.S. and Canada. The court is currently hearing a substantive challenge to the interpretive rule, and in light of today's ruling, the hemp industry is optimistic that the Court will ultimately invalidate DEA's rule, as one of the prime criteria in granting the Stay was whether the hemp industry is likely to ultimately prevail on the merits of the case.
Because trace infinitesimal THC in hemp seed is non-psychoactive and insignificant, the U.S. Congress exempted non-viable hemp seed and oil from control under the CSA, just as Congress exempted poppy seeds from the CSA, although they contain trace opiates otherwise subject to control. The hemp industry is assuring retailers and consumers that hemp food products should continue to be stocked, sold and consumed.
Joe Sandler, counsel for the HIA, stated: "The Court's order effectively prevents DEA from enforcing its Interpretive Rule' until a final ruling by the Court on the validity of DEA's action. With this stay in effect, all those who sell, import, manufacture, distribute and retail edible hemp oil and seed, and oil and seed products, can continue those activities secure in the knowledge that such products remain perfectly lawful."
Hemp seed has a well-balanced protein content and the highest content of essential fatty acids (EFAs) of any oil in nature: EFAs are the "good fats" that, like vitamins, the body does not produce and requires for good health. Dr. Udo Erasmus, an internationally recognized nutritional authority on fats and oils, writes in Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, "Hemp seed oil may be nature's most perfectly balanced oil." Not surprisingly, shelled hemp seed and oil are increasingly used in natural food products, such as corn chips, nutrition bars, hummus, nondairy milks, breads and cereals. In the last few years, the hemp foods industry has grown from less than $1 million a year to over $5 million in retail sales.
The court ruling allows the hemp foods industry segment to
continue its phenomenal expansion. Popular hemp foods include
pretzels, tortilla chips, energy bars, waffles, bread, salad
dressing, cereal, cooking oil, ice cream and even non-dairy milk.
©2002 Drug Policy Alliance · www.drugpolicy.org (formerly Lindesmith-Drug Policy Foundation)
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