Bill Piper at (202)669-6430
In a move that surprised groups working on substance abuse issues, Congressional Democrats backed away yesterday from a national campaign to repeal a federal law that denies student loans to people convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. Although Democrats had indicated earlier in the year that repealing the punitive drug provision would be a priority when considering legislation reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, the House Committee on Education and Labor decided last night to not only not repeal the provision but to expand federal law to deny pell grants to civilly confined sex offenders. The HEA Drug Provision has already stripped student loans from more than 200,000 students. More than 500 education, drug treatment and criminal justice groups have called for it to be repealed.
“By not changing this counterproductive policy Democrats are saying that tens of thousands of students should be kicked out of college and denied an education”, said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “They should rename their education bill Leave Many Kids Behind because that’s what it does.”
Democrats did a similar about face on the issue in the Senate earlier this year. Senate Democrats included language in a bill reauthorizing the Higher Education Act that would have reformed the punitive drug provision. When the bill was debated on the Senate floor, however, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) offered an amendment killing the reform. Senate Democrats accepted the amendment without any opposition.
Opponents of the punitive HEA Drug Provision say Democrats are chickening out on the issue and putting election worries above the needs of young people.
“The American people have moved beyond the drug war hysteria of the 1980s, but many Democrats still don’t realize this,” said Piper. “They’re afraid reforming draconian drug laws will make them look soft on crime, even though polling shows that voters are tired of punitive policies and want change.”