D.C. Voting Rights Bill Appears Likely to Carry Amendment

Posted March 20, 2009 at 6:04pm

The prospect of an amendment-free voting rights act for the District is looking more and more unlikely, with voting rights advocates conceding they still lack enough votes, and the city’s mayor suggesting a gun amendment might be inevitable.

The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act has been in stasis since early this month, when Republicans tried to attach a popular amendment that would strike many of the city’s gun laws. Soon after, the National Rifle Association reportedly threatened to adversely “score— Members who voted to consider an amendment-free bill.

House leaders promptly pulled it from the calendar, and ever since, voting rights advocates have been scrambling to convince more than 80 centrist and conservative Democrats to ignore the NRA threat and vote on a clean bill.

On Friday, the executive director of DC Vote said the advocacy group hasn’t been able to secure enough certain votes.

“A number of people weren’t ready to say where they would be on the whole closed rule issue,— Ilir Zherka said, referring to the rule that would bar amendments from the bill. “We were not able to arrive at a hard number, but certainly there’s a lot of support to have these two issues de-linked.—

Zherka said it was now up to House leadership to come up with a “creative solution— to separate the gun amendment from the bill. The amendment enjoys wide support in the House and already has been attached to the Senate-passed version of the voting rights act.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has continued to champion the bill but hasn’t set a time frame for passage, only predicting that it will pass into law this year.

How it will reach the floor is still unclear, and supporters seem to be split on whether to accept the gun amendment.

On Thursday, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty told the Washington Post that residents might have to accept the amendment if it were essential to passing the bill. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) shot back, saying his comments undercut her efforts.

For now, all voting rights advocates are still pushing for a clean bill. Norton is working with the Congressional Black Caucus to push the civil rights angle, while DC Vote will be placing radio and print ads in four or five Southern Congressional districts — an attempt to talk directly to Members’ constituents and convince them that a vote on a clean bill is not a vote against gun rights.