- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

D.C. officials yesterday cheered the Utah Legislature’s approval of a redistricting map that is key to the District’s voting rights bill, saying the development brings city residents one step closer to having a vote in the House.

“I do think we can move this bill,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who co-sponsored the D.C. Voting Rights Act. “The main problem is time.”

Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty, who met with House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi last week and discussed the bill’s prospects, said that Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, told him she would move aggressively for the bill.

“I remain optimistic that the bill will move this week,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat. “And if it doesn’t, I’m hopeful it will be at the top of the legislative agenda in 2007.”

Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Pelosi, said the bill would be a priority for Democratic lawmakers if introduced again next year.

The Utah Legislature yesterday approved a map dividing the state into four congressional districts. The redistricting map was required by lawmakers to move the Voting Rights Act proposal, which has been put forward by Mrs. Norton and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican.

The plan would give the largely Democratic District a seat in the House and add a fourth seat for largely Republican Utah. It also would expand the House permanently from 435 to 437 members.

But the chances of the measure making it out of the House Judiciary Committee and through both chambers of the Republican-controlled Congress before lawmakers adjourn this month are shrinking.

The bill was not on the House floor schedule issued last week, although bills can be added to the docket.

A House senior leadership aide said yesterday there had been “zero discussions” about bringing the bill to the floor this week.

And an aide for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said the chances of the bill passing the Senate this session are “rather slim” because the squeezed time frame doesn’t allow for much debate.

Mrs. Norton also said some House Republicans have suggested changes to the bill beyond the Utah redistricting. But she remained hopeful that the measure could move forward.

“We can’t do the impossible, but we can certainly keep pressing for this bill as long as this session is still alive,” Mrs. Norton said. “Even with all the uncertainty, we’re not willing to throw in the towel.”

If lawmakers fail to pass the bill before the current session expires, Mr. Davis is expected to reintroduce it immediately after the next session begins Jan. 4.

David Marin, a spokesman for Mr. Davis, said the bill’s supporters are holding out hope that it will be introduced this week.

“There are a lot of calls going around to a lot of very influential people,” Mr. Marin said. “We’re still optimistic.”

D.C. Vote, a nonprofit advocacy group, is expected to visit congressional offices today in an effort to have the bill brought to a vote.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the group, said he expects about 60 advocates to visit about 80 congressional offices, using yesterday’s vote in Utah as momentum to have the bill heard this year.

“It’s definitely still an uphill battle,” Mr. Zherka said. “The effort in Congress is to do as little as possible and get out, and our effort is to add things to their list. This bill is still in the mix.”

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