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Say Anything You Want About Drugs—as Long as You’re Against Them

In what some are calling censorship, the U.S. Senate recently passed legislation that restricts advertising opposing the U.S. War on Drugs. In January, the Senate passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act-2004 (H.R. 2673), which includes a provision that denies federal funding to any transit agency displaying ads that advocate drug-law reform. This makes federally funded buses, trains and subways off-limits for advertising by drug-policy reformers.

The controversial provision was proposed by Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.) after seeing an ad supporting the legalization of marijuana on a Washington, D.C., subway. He thought it was counterproductive for the government to put money toward an anti-drug message and then use taxpayer money to fund institutions that allow promoting the legalization of drugs, his press secretary Micah Swafford said.

Bill Piper, associate director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, feels this provision sets a dangerous precedent where groups critical of U.S. policies are restricted from advertising on public space. DPA promotes “realistic alternatives to the war on drugs,” Piper said, adding that it was “not surprising [that the bill passed] because it was pushed under a federal spending bill and never got a fair vote,” referring to this year’s decision by Congressional leadership to reconcile multiple spending bills within one conference committee. These committees send final versions to both the House and Senate for one final vote, creating an opportunity for members to add controversial provisions knowing that their colleagues would be unlikely to vote against an entire spending bill.

Another provision within the bill gives taxpayer money to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to run anti-drug ads. Jon L. Katz, a First Amendment lawyer in Silver Spring, Md., believes this provision is unconstitutional. “The Supreme Court has confirmed again and again that government cannot engage in content-based censorship,” he said.

Swafford disagreed, explaining, “The first amendment doesn’t prevent the government from advocating a position.”

The DPA is working to eliminate the provision when appropriations are voted on next year, and the ACLU of the National Capital Area is considering legal action.

—Liz Healy

Challenging Pet Peeves

Having pets can make finding a new home difficult, as many landlords forbid animals in their buildings. Yet according to FIREPAW, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to improving animal welfare through research and education, this decision frequently arises from several misleading preconceptions that can have far-reaching effects on tenants because, FIREPAW President Dr. Pamela Frank said, companion animals are often considered to be members of the family.

In a recent FIREPAW survey, landlords cited damage bills as the driving cause of restrictive pet rules. However, FIREPAW’s research found that converting a building to a pet-friendly environment can actually result in a net profit.

FIREPAW found that children cause at least as much damage and disturbance as the average pet. Still, restricting the occupancy of tenants with toddlers to those willing to pay additional “baby fees” would be an unacceptable practice. Pet deposits are common, however, and they usually more than compensate for pet damages.

The initial rental cost in buildings where pets are permitted tends to be greater by 20 to 30 percent. On average, twice as many people apply for vacated apartments in pet-friendly buildings as those who apply for pet-free living areas. Landlords who allow pets fill their rentals more quickly and retain their tenants for a significantly longer period of time, states FIREPAW’s research. This leads to less spending on advertising as well as less money lost to vacated rooms.

In response to their survey results, FIREPAW started the Companion Animal Renters Program [CARP] to communicate these advantages to landlords, as well as teach interviewing techniques for new applicants and suggest various pet policies.

“There are good drivers and bad drivers, good employees and bad employees . . .” Frank explained, adding that FIREPAW attempts to “reframe the way that [landlords] think so that they come to see that there are no problem animals; there are good tenants and bad tenants, or tenants who need to be educated in order to coexist in an apartment situation.”

CARP teaches ways in which transformation of pet-free buildings to pet-friendly buildings can be economically sound, and seeks to alleviate tenants’ animal-related concerns so that pets can retain their position as humans’ best friends.

For more information on FIREPAW and CARP, visit www.firepaw.org or call 462-5939.

—Ariel Colletti

Campus Compromise

In Saratoga Springs this time last year, Stephen Towne, the city’s accounts commissioner, was trying to change Skidmore College’s voting district and move its polling place off-campus. This year, however, Towne, whose office is in charge of voting districts, is working with the college to find a better on-campus location for the polling place.

After Election Day saw Republican challenges to student voters, and what many characterize as voter intimidation [“An Education in Intimidation,” Newsfront, Nov. 13, 2003], some in the college community worried the town would try to move the college’s polling place again [“Poll Faulting,” Newsfront, Nov. 20, 2003].

In the spirit of cooperation, however, Towne, college officials and Saratoga County’s Democratic and Republican elections commissioners are seeking a spot with less traffic to give voters more privacy and where the 100-foot boundary can be more clearly marked, with good handicap accessibility as well.

“I am very pleased that the polling place on campus is secure and that we can now focus on what is most important: promoting discourse on the critical issues facing our nation and community, registering voters, and getting the vote out,” said Pat Oles, dean of student affairs. “We think a place on campus makes that more likely, so the bottom line for us is that we’re just really pleased that it’s still on campus.”

—Ashley Hahn


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