Nearly 30,000 District residents on parole, probation or awaiting trial on criminal charges would be subject to drug testing, with chronic substance abusers placed into an expanded city treatment program or possibly returned to jail, under a $25 million measure House leaders plan to add to the D.C. budget today.
The testing and treatment program--endorsed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey--is designed to help the city crack down on its most persistent repeat offenders: convicted criminals who each commit an estimated 300 to 500 crimes a year to feed their drug habits.
The expanded funding is one of several extras that will be added to the city's budget when it is taken up today by the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, said Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), the panel's chairman, and Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), its ranking Democrat.
Besides endorsing most aspects of the city's proposed $4.7 billion spending plan, the subcommittee will add $20 million to fund severance payments for 1,000 city employees, $7.5 million for widening the 14th Street bridge, $17 million from the federal government for a new program that will allow D.C. students to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges across the nation, and $1.2 million to fund a citizens panel to monitor police misconduct and abuse, Istook and Moran said.
And like the version of the D.C. budget that has been passed by the Senate, the House plan will include the five-year, nearly $300 million package of tax cuts agreed to by Williams and the D.C. Council.
The House version does not include the Senate's proposal to allow two new cellular phone towers in Rock Creek Park, a measure that has drawn angry criticism from D.C. officials and residents.
The move to expand city spending on the Hill reflects the confidence Istook and Moran said they have in Williams and a belief that Congress must help the District continue its transition from a nearly bankrupt municipality to a well-functioning one.
"The city has balanced its budget, dealt with the accumulated debt. . . . Now we . . . want to improve services to citizens and create a safer environment," Istook said.
Today, only about 4 percent of the 12,000 D.C. parolees and 2 percent of the 5,760 D.C. residents on probation are subject to regular drug testing, said John A. Carver III, trustee for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.
The testing is sporadic and unreliable, Carver said, but even so it suggests that nearly half of those on probation or parole are using drugs, a violation of the condition of their release. When the D.C. court system finds that such convicts are still using drugs, treatment is uncertain because the system funds only 326 slots in residential treatment programs.
Under the proposal that Istook intends to bring forward, about $2.5 million in the D.C. court system's budget request would be reallocated to fund twice-a-week drug testing for those under the agency's supervision who have failed a previous drug screening. An additional $13 million would provide 3,500 more drug-treatment slots; $10 million would be added to hire about 175 officers and others to increase monitoring of those under court supervision.
Williams said the drug testing and treatment plan is similar to a Maryland program he supports.
"In Maryland, they are focusing on folks most likely to commit crimes and targeting their effort, and that is exactly what we ought to be doing here," Williams said.
Williams has also asked for $20 million that would pay for the retirement, layoff or removal of about 1,000 city employees. Under Williams's plan--which Istook and Moran support--many of these departing workers would be mid-level managers. Williams has told Istook that the money would be used to make "substantial improvements in operations of District agencies" by removing managers who are not up to the job.
The $7.5 million proposed for the 14th Street bridge would be for planning a $130 million project to add a lane in each direction.
The $17 million for the tuition assistance program--which also is in the Senate version--would help deliver on a promise by Congress to greatly expand higher education opportunities for city residents, who currently must pay higher out-of-state tuition rates at public colleges other than the University of District of Columbia.
Intense debate is likely on other proposals that Istook said yesterday he expects to be added to the D.C. budget bill, namely a ban on public funds for needle exchange programs, a ban on providing health benefits for domestic partners and a continuation of Congress's move to prevent the city from counting the ballots from last year's referendum on legalizing marijuana for certain medical treatments.
Similar amendments were included in last year's legislation, each drawing protests by home rule and gay rights advocates, among others, who said that Congress should not try to impose its moral views on the city. Moran and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), also a member of the Appropriations panel on the District, said they again will oppose such measures.
"I don't think it is fair to make the District of Columbia the social petri dish for . . . the right wing of the Republican Party," Moran said.
Whatever is passed by the House panel will have to be approved by the full Appropriations Committee, the full House and then a House-Senate panel.
CAPTION: Karen Szulgit, left, and Anise Jenkins protest District residents' lack of say on amendments to the city's budget.