The House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted an extension of the 1965 voting Rights Act, but the bipartisan coalition on the committee that has held firmly together for strong civil rights legislation for 25 years nearly flew apart in the process.
The bill, sent to the House for action after the August recess, makes permanent machinery which until now has been extended every five years for assuring that state and local governments do not discriminate against blacks or other minorities in exercising their right to vote.
And the committee added a "bailout" formula by which covered states that have compiled with the law fully for 10 years can escape the requirement that they got prior clearance from the Justice Department for any change in their election laws.
Throughout weeks of negotiations among committee members, the bailout provision has been the only point of controversy. Democratic liberals had been trying to reach an agreement with Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, senior Republican on the civil rights subcommittee, on the bailout provision, which is a concept he first advanced.
But when that failed after several tentative agreements collapsed, the Democratic majority pushed the bill through committee yesterday to keep to its timetable of House passage this year, thus allowing time to get it through the more conservative Senate by next August, when the pre-clearance provision would expire.
The bill was reported by a vote of 23 to 1, but that did not reflect members' views on its merits nor the angry debate that preceded it. It meant only that all members except Rep. Caldwell Butler (R-Va.) were willing to send the bill to the floor, where Hyde says he believes he has a better chance of amending it to give greater weight to states' rights.
Etter chance of amending it to give greater weight to states' rights. Hyde says he belives he has a better chance of amending it to give greater weight to states' rights.
Hyde began the year saying that the covered states, mostly in the South, had "served their time in the penalty box" and should be released from the pre-clearance provision. But hearings persuaded him that there is still need for federal policing, and he proposed instead a bailout route through long-standing compliance.
The breakdown in negotiations occurred when liberals insisted that no state be permitted to bail out as long as any of its counties remained out of compliance with the act.
Hyde rejected this, and angrily told the committee yesterday that this section "requires a state not only to clean up its own act but also that of every county and village, which may not be possible because of home rule." It would discriminate against those counties in a state which have made good-faith efforts to comply.
Under the bill approved, a state could seek a bailout beginning in August, 1984, by petitioning the federal district court here in Washington and showing that the state and all its counties have been in compliance with the law for the previous 10 years.
To do so, the state must prove it has used no literacy test or similar devices, has fully complied with the pre-clearance requirement, has not been found guilty by a court of abridging the right to vote, has not had federal examiners sent in to enforce voting rights, and has engaged in constructive efforts to eliminate intimidation. Once bailed out, a state could be brought back under the act if it fell out of compliance.