- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Civil rights groups are upset that the Senate is moving too slowly in putting together a bill to extend provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Officials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People approached Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and his staff recently and were not convinced that the bill would be passed before the summer recess.

“It is not moving in any way or with any speed that gives us comfort that it is going to get done before the Congress leaves,” said Bruce S. Gordon, NAACP president.

“The House is ready to go with language we like and agree with, but the Senate is not moving with any sense of urgency.”

Civil rights groups and House leaders have agreed to reauthorize parts of the law set to expire, including Justice Department oversight of elections in states with a history of discriminatory voting practices, which had generated opposition in both chambers.

But concerns remain about the extension of guidelines for the use of foreign languages on ballots.

“We just passed a resolution expressing that English should be our preferred language of use for federal documents and government work, and we need to look at the costs of these foreign-language provisions that will proliferate if the immigration trends continue,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

The foreign-language section requires ballots to include the native tongue of any group that has more than 10,000 voters or 5 percent of a district who are not proficient in English, which has driven up costs in several states.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, this week said he plans to have a vote on it next week, depending on ongoing negotiations within the Republican caucus and between Republican and Democratic leaders.

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat, who has tried to keep the immigration debate separate from the Voting Rights Act, said he was encouraged by Mr. Boehner’s announcement.

But he added, “I will not be if this doesn’t get done before the summer recess, because this needs to get done before September.”

Mr. Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, gave no indication that the Senate would be ready to move the bill out of committee before the end of this month.

Civil rights leaders “would like to have the committee markup done before July 4, but there are others, including some senators, who want to have more hearings,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union is also becoming impatient and has put on a three-day campaign to push for action.

“We don’t believe either body should wait for the other to move, and we would like to see the Senate move quickly … because of the upcoming [congressional midterm] elections it is important that the final markup happens before the end of July,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office.

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