|New Developments Force Delay on Voting Rights Bill, but Norton Already at Work on New Strategies|
New Developments Force Delay on Voting Rights Bill, but Norton Already at Work on New Strategies
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today, in light of new developments that are just emerging in both the House and Senate, has asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to remove the D.C. voting rights bill from the floor schedule for now. Congresswoman Norton's statement follows:
"After working for a full year to bring a clean D.C. voting rights bill to the House floor, while continuing to negotiate a gun compromise, I made the most difficult decision last week to begin moving forward with the D.C. voting rights bill. It appeared that despite a gun amendment, our best chance to pass D.C. voting rights was this year because the 60 Senate votes resulting from our pairing with Utah disappears after the 2010 census becomes effective, and large majorities in the House and Senate cannot be assured in the current political climate. However, new developments in both the House and Senate have now made it difficult to pass the D.C. House Voting Rights Act right now.
"First, concerning developments in the House, over the weekend, the Democratic House leadership and I were shocked and blindsided to receive an updated NRA-drafted House gun bill, which would have been significantly more harmful to the city than the Senate (Ensign) gun bill. I cannot agree to these egregious changes, not only because they make the already bad gun attachment to the D.C. voting rights bill even worse than I thought was possible, but also because the new sections will surely bring down the support we have had of anti-gun Democratic Senators. Senate Democratic support was already in doubt because some Democrats had said they would not vote for the final bill if it contained the Ensign gun amendment. I had hoped that some changes I requested in the Senate gun amendment would hold their support, but three outrageous provisions in the updated NRA-drafted House gun bill virtually guarantee the loss of some Senate Democratic support, and therefore of the D.C. voting rights bill.
"The existing Senate gun bill eliminated important gun safety laws in the District, but the changes in the House gun bill would directly proliferate guns throughout the District. First, the District would be barred from prohibiting or even unduly burdening the carrying of firearms by persons, either concealed or openly, in public, an unthinkable provision for both hometown D.C. and official Washington. Second, the bill would permit the District of Columbia police chief to issue concealed carry licenses and severely limited the chief's discretion to refuse to do so. To make matters even worse, I also learned yesterday that we will have difficulty defeating a potential Republican motion to recommit, using their right to offer one amendment on, the gun bill. We believe that such an amendment would allow persons to carry firearms, either concealed or openly, without permits, taking away even the police chief's limited discretion to deny such permits. Consequently, a person in the District would be able to walk on the streets carrying an assault weapon slung over her shoulder or with concealed weapons. Third, the District of Columbia would not be able to prohibit guns in city-controlled buildings or structures, unless they had certain security measures to identify and exclude unauthorized or hazardous persons or articles, such as guard posts, metal detectors, or card-based or biometric access devices. Under this provision, for example, D.C. might not be able to ban guns at public and charter schools, recreation centers, and many other public buildings that do not have such security measures. Fourth, residential or commercial building owners in the District would not be able to prohibit or restrict the possession of firearms by tenants. Considering that almost all of the commercial space in the District of Columbia is leased and that most residential housing here is leased, almost every commercial office building, as well as all rental housing units, could be filled with persons possessing guns. These provisions are so over the top, they are unworthy of serious consideration.
"Concerning developments in the Senate, even if we had not faced this new, unexpected NRA-drafted House gun bill, we were surprised last week by the vocal and strident opposition of Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) to the House version of the D.C. voting rights bill, I admire and have worked closely for many years with Senator Hatch on many issues, including the D.C. voting rights bill. Senator Hatch has argued forcefully and with great principle that Constitution permits Congress to grant the District a House seat. We have always known that Senator Hatch opposed Utah's temporary additional fourth being elected at-large, as opposed to redistricting, but we had hoped to be able to reconcile the House and Senate bills, as well as to encourage Republican Senators to support the D.C. House voting rights bill on principle. However, we did not anticipate Senator Hatch's harsh opposition to the House bill on at-large grounds, nor did we expect him to ‘filibuster and vote against this bill, and...urge...Senate colleagues to do so as well.' Senator Hatch's filibuster of the bill almost surely will have the support of his Republican colleagues, leaving us without 60 votes.
"With the invaluable and indispensible leadership of DC Vote, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and coalition of legions of allies I have fought a fight that is part of my DNA as a third-generation Washingtonian, whose great grandfather settled here as a runaway slave from Virginia. Our city cannot give up now, and we are fortunate to have the continuing strong support of our Democratic leadership. We have begun to develop new strategies to get a voting rights bill through the Congress that can pass, but I will have public meetings before bringing forward new approaches to achieve voting rights. We have developed a strategy for advancing budget and legislative autonomy this year.
"As I said last week, gun forces have the votes to take out our gun laws on another bill, and be assured that they will try to do so. I have successfully fought them off four times in the past until they came upon the voting rights bill. I will return to the trenches where I have always fought for my hometown to do all I can to turn back these aggressors. At the same time, I am full of promising ideas about how to move forward not only on voting rights but on every right D.C. residents are entitled to as American citizens. I ask only that my constituents work with me to achieve these goals."