Foes Fight D.C. Vote Measure In Senate

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) sought an amendment that would repeal the city's gun control laws.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) sought an amendment that would repeal the city's gun control laws. (AP)
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Michael Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Opponents of a bill that would award the District its first seat in the House of Representatives fought back yesterday with a blitz of amendments in the Senate, including one to repeal the city's gun-control laws that appeared to have significant support.

The amendments were proposed during a day of fiery speeches about the bill in the Senate and House, where it was approved by a key committee. Supporters and foes disagreed on whether the bill would restore basic democratic rights to D.C. residents or perform an end run around the Constitution.

The voting rights bill could come up for a final vote in the Senate today if both parties agree to quickly move through the five remaining amendments. In case they don't, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) filed a motion last night to end debate. That would probably push a final vote to Monday, officials said.

If approved, the measure would be the first D.C. voting rights bill passed by that body in more than 30 years. "The hope is we can work out an agreement to have votes on a handful of amendments and have final passage" tonight, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid.

In the House, the Judiciary Committee passed its version of the bill 24 to 12. The legislation has widespread support in the House, which will take it up next week, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said.

The bill is a political compromise that would permanently expand the House by two seats. One would go to the heavily Democratic District, and the other would go to Republican-leaning Utah for two years before being assigned to whatever state deserves it based on population. Utah narrowly missed getting an extra congressman after the last Census.

"Clearly, today, there's been an orgy of amendments offered to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, partially in an effort to derail the bill, but also people are using it as an opportunity to put their pet issue" on the Senate floor, said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy group.

He said the gun amendment "could be a big problem here."

That amendment closely resembles a bill passed by the House but not the Senate last year. It alarmed D.C. officials by calling for the removal of almost all locally imposed gun-control rules.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said he was introducing the amendment because the D.C. Council "has continued to enact onerous and unconstitutional firearms regulations" despite the Supreme Court decision last year overturning the city's ban on handguns.

He produced a large chart on the Senate floor that showed the city's murder rate over the years.

"Can you honestly tell me that gun control in D.C. has been effective?" Ensign asked.

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