The Pennsylvania House of Representatives handed another setback yesterday to the ratification drive of the proposed constitutional amendment to give the District full voting representation in Congress.
By a vote of 94 to 89, the House approved a motion by the Republican minority leader to recommit the resolution to committee for further hearings. The move appeared to end chances of ratification in Pennsylvania this year.
The action marked the third time in less than a month that a legislature has refused to ratify the proposal, which needs approval of 38 states within seven years to become effective.
On Aug. 30 the California State Senate refused to waive rules that would have allowed consideration of the amendment, and the next day the Delaware House rejected ratification. New Jersey became the first - and so for the only - legislature to ratify the proposal when it acted on Sept. 11.
The Pennsylvania Senate had approved ratification by a vote of 29 to 18 on Monday night.
Pennsylvania was considered likely to approve the proposed amendment in a national poll conducted recently by The Washington Post. The poll indicated that 13 other states were seen as opposed to ratification, a number sufficient to defeat it.
D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, who sat silently in the ornate house chamber as the vote was recorded, said afterward that he believed some legislators voted to postpone consideration because they were "genuinely desirous" of further hearings.
Fauntroy predicted that "many who voted to reconsider today will vote in the affirmative" after these hearings.
The House committee on state-federal relations had approved the resolution last week by a vote of 13 to 2 after a 2-hour public hearing.
Rep. H. Jack Seltzer (R-Lebanon) the GOP floor leader, said he offered the recommittal motion so that the question of ratification could be decided by the new legislature that will be elected Nov. 7.
Rep. James P. Ritter (D-Leigh), chairman of the committee that conducted the hearing last week, argued against recommittal, saying, "You're not going to hear any more in a week than you will in the first 10 or 15 minutes."
The delay also was seen as a slap at the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, K. Leroy Irvis, one of the nation's leading black legislators, who was the principal House sponsor of the resolution.
Fauntroy added that "had proxies been allowed, the resolution would have prevailed today." Fauntroy was referring to an attempt by some legislators to record votes for colleagues who were not on the floor when the roll was called.
Challenges reduced by 10 the number of votes first recorded, overturning the original outcome. Among the absentees were eight Philadelphia Democrats who are believed to favor ratification.
Yesterday was the last day of the legislature's session, and some members already had left the capital for home. It is believed that most of the Philadelphia were among them.
The decision to recommit, however, had bipartisan support at 18 Democrats, including five from the Pittsburgh area, voted with the Republican minority.
One of the Democrats who sided with the Republicans, Rep. Joseph R. Zeller, of Ennaus, noted that only one of the four witnesses at last week's hearing was from Pennsylvania.
"I don't want outsiders trying to brainwash us on the issue," said Zeller.
"It's clear we're not as organized as we should be," said Fauntroy, reviewing the outcome. He said that although Republican national chairman Bill Brock telephoned several Republican members of the Pennsylvania House yesterday, "He didn't call Mr. Seltzer and I didn't talk to him either. The motion to recommit caught me by surprise."
Rep. James D. Barber (D-Philadelphia), one of 12 blacks in the House, told Fauntroy after the vote, "I'm sorry about what happened. I'm damned sure it won't happen the next time."