Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Senate Approves D.C. Voting Rights Bill; House to Take Action Next Week

Senate Approves D.C. Voting Rights Bill; House to Take Action Next Week; CQ Politics

The Senate passed a compromise bill Thursday that would give full voting representation in the House to the District of Columbia, the first time in more than 30 years that the chamber has passed a D.C. voting rights measure.

“It’s not a small step. It’s a significant and historic step forward on the journey to realize the best principles of this great republic,” Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman , I-Conn., the sponsor and floor manager of the bill (S 160), said on the floor before the vote.

The House next week is to take up a companion bill (HR 157), which was approved by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a 20-12 vote. President Obama supported full voting representation in the House for the District when he was a U.S. senator and is expected to sign the final bill.

However, any new law would face an almost-certain court challenge over its constitutionality.

Similar legislation passed the House in the 110th Congress, but died on a 57-42 procedural vote in the Senate, which fell three votes short of cutting off debate.

The Senate measure passed 61-37 after supporters fended off a series of Republican amendments, including one that would have provided full congressional representation to the District by potentially ceding all non-federal land back to Maryland.

But the Senate did adopt a Republican amendment rewriting the District’s gun laws that could prove troublesome in a conference committee.

By a vote of 62-36, the Senate adopted an amendment by John Ensign , R-Nev., that would repeal the District’s restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, bar the city’s registration requirements for most guns and drop criminal penalties for possessing an unregistered firearm in the District. The amendment drew the support of moderate, Midwestern and Western Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a strong bill backer.

“If anything, this amendment has strengthened our resolve to continue to fight for the rights of Washingtonians,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, in a statement. “Congress repeatedly treats the District as a testing ground for flawed, dangerous legislation. This has to stop — and we’ll keep fighting to ensure that the bill signed into law is not tainted by this amendment.”

Comment: Once again our elected officials have failed to read the US Constitution.

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