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Opposing Bills on Funding of Needle Exchanges Pending in Congress


September-October 1997

There are two opposing measures to address clean needle exchange pending in the House. One bill would lift the federal ban on needle exchanges (H.R. 2212), and the other which would take away the power of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to lift the ban (H.R. 2264) (Paul Leavitt, "Needle-exchange bill faces battle," USA Today, August 5, 1997, p. A11; Associated Press, "Bill Seeks End to Ban on Needle Exchange Funds," August 20, 1997;

Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) introduced H.R. 2212 on July 22 to require Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala to lift the ban on federal funding of needle exchange programs. The measure is pending in the House Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. According to Rep. Pelosi's office, Congress said it would lift the ban on federal funding if two conditions were met: that needle exchange programs reduced the spread of HIV and that they did not increase illegal drug use. Rep. Pelosi said "the data are in and the experts agree -- it's time to lift the ban"

Under H.R. 2212, needle exchange programs funding is contigent upon the exchange being part of a program to prevent the spread of HIV and must make referrals for substance abuse treatment and other medical and social support services. According to Rep. Cummings, "We cannot close our eyes any longer and pretend if we `just say no' people are going to do the right thing."

However, the House adopted a contrary amendment, 266 to 158, on September 11 to prohibit the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs, which would take away the power of the HHS Secretary to lift the ban. The amendment, originally sponsored by Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is now being led by Reps. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Dennis Hastert (R-IL) (Louis Freedberg, "Needle Exchange Programs get no help in House Vote," San Fransisco Chronicle, September 12, 1997, p. A2).

The amendment to the $80 billion FY 1998 appropriations bill (H.R. 2264) for the Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, may be motivated by fears that the HHS Secretary Donna Shalala might make the findings Congress required to be made to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs. In February, Shalala reported to the Senate Appropriations Committee as required by the FY 1997 Appropriations bill that a review of needle exchange programs found that needle exchange programs could be an effective component of an HIV prevention program (See "Needle Exchanges Endorsed by NIH Panel, Federal Officials," NewsBriefs, March-April 1997).

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings - 1632 LHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4741, Fax: (202) 225-3178.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi - 2457 RHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4965, Fax: (202) 225-8259.

U.S. Rep. Tom Coburn - 429 CHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-2701, Fax: (202) 225-3038.

U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker - 206 CHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-4306, Fax: (202) 225-3549.

U.S. Rep. J. Dennis Hastert - 2241 RHOB, Washington, DC 20515, Tel: (202) 225-2976, Fax: (202) 225-0697.