Why is the Baltimore City Council more willing to spend taxpayer dollars to defend illegal laws that keep its citizens out of drug treatment than to invest in their recovery? They should stop defending a fifty-year old zoning law that shuts out the very health care services that so many citizens want and need.
The City knows its restrictions on the opening or expansion of residential drug treatment programs violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act. The U.S. Department of Justice knows it too, and has been working with the City Solicitor and treatment providers for almost two years to find a remedy. Last year, Mayor Dixon introduced a bill that would amend Baltimore’s zoning code so that it no longer discriminates against citizens seeking treatment for drug addiction.
Mayor Dixon’s bill is fair and fiscally prudent. It would bring the City in line with the zoning standards of surrounding counties. It applies to only those treatment programs that meet state licensure standards, many of which also meet national accreditation standards for health care facilities. It adopts the same zoning standard for licensed drug treatment programs that the City has enforced for over ten years for residential services for persons with mental illness. It also creates a point person in the Mayor’s office to address community concerns and provide linkages to state officials and local enforcement officials.
Why does the City Council refuse to act on the bill? It should do the math. State data show that among patients who received residential treatment in 2006, the percentage who gained employment tripled between admission and discharge. These individuals pay taxes. They regain their health. They contribute to safer neighborhoods. We can’t afford to pass up these remarkable results.
Because the City Council continues to drag its feet, the Department of Justice is now ready to bring a federal civil right lawsuit against the City. The City’s own attorney has advised the City Council that it won’t win this fight. The City Council won’t use its own funds to defend this lawsuit, so why should it be permitted to squander taxpayer dollars? The Council’s action even puts Baltimore’s federal treatment dollars at risk because it’s perpetuating discrimination even as it spends those funds.
The City Council has time to adopt a fair zoning law before a court orders it to do so.