CONGRESSIONAL VOTING RIGHTS

Utah Takes Action That Aids D.C. Bid

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A bill giving the District a full voting member of the House of Representatives moved a step closer to consideration by Congress yesterday as Utah approved a redistricting plan for the seat that it also would receive in the legislation.

Advocates of the bill now hope it will be rushed through Congress during the end of its lame-duck session, which gets underway today. Congressional aides have said that is highly unlikely because of the limited time left.

Nonetheless, supporters of the bill saw a glimmer of hope, noting that the Utah vote resolved objections that had impeded the legislation in recent months from moving to a vote in the House.

"There's nothing standing in the way now," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who crafted the bill. "It's time justice is done, and the District of Columbia gets a vote in Congress. Nobody has gotten this far before. I call on Congress and the White House to finish the job while we have the momentum going."

The bill aims to win bipartisan support by coupling a seat for the heavily Democratic District with another for the state next in line to expand its congressional delegation based on census results. That state is currently Utah, a Republican bastion.

The legislation was overwhelmingly approved in May by Davis's House Committee on Government Reform, prompting euphoria among its supporters. But the House Judiciary Committee, which had to approve the legislation before a full House vote, balked because the bill made Utah's extra congressional seat at-large. The committee wanted a fourth congressional district drawn up in the state.

The Utah legislature did that yesterday, with its Senate voting 23 to 4 and its House voting 51 to 19 to approve a plan hammered out by a bipartisan redistricting committee.

Davis said the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), had agreed to send the legislation through to the floor once Utah acted -- one reason that advocates are hoping it could get through Congress quickly. Through a spokesman, Sensenbrenner declined to comment yesterday.

The bill is not on the House schedule this week, and Republican leadership aides have said Congress will probably be too busy with other matters to consider it. To become law, it needs to be passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Bush.

In Utah, politicians have pushed for the bill because many think their state was shortchanged in the last census, which did not count many residents working abroad as missionaries.

"We feel this is righting a wrong that occurred several years ago, when the last allocation of House seats was established," said Michael Mower, a spokesman for Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R). "We're hopeful that now that we've done our due diligence and hard work, congressional leaders will find time on the agenda to consider this very important item."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), a co-sponsor of the bill, is in her eighth term as the District's voice in Congress, but she is not allowed to vote on the House floor. If the legislation becomes law, a special election would be held to fill the new D.C. seat, Norton said.

Norton said she was pleased that the Utah legislature acted. "They want their vote as much as we want our vote," said.


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