Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The District’s push for a full vote in the House of Representatives hit a snag Tuesday when two gun amendments and a number of others were offered shortly before a House Rules Committee hearing on the bill. The committee pulled the legislation from Wednesday’s floor debate in response.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting member of the House, said she would testify before the committee perhaps as early as Wednesday seeking a rule to restrict amendments to the bill. The same rule was employed when a similar bill passed the House in 2007.

Mrs. Norton said that she did not think the bill will be ready this week, as originally expected. Still, she said she was grateful the committee pulled the bill “to spare me from having to formally request that it be pulled from the House floor, had it proceeded so quickly that these gun amendments had somehow been possible.”

A similar amendment to ease the District’s gun-control laws were added to the Senate version of the bill last week.

Mrs. Norton said she discussed strategy with House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, condemned the committee’s action.

“The Democratic leadership repeatedly has made promises for a return to ‘regular order´ in the House, but this is added proof of just how hollow that promise has become,” he said.

“By maneuvering to deny Second Amendment rights to residents of our nation´s capital, Democratic leaders have made it clear that ‘regular order´ and the will of the American people will be respected only when it serves their interests,” he said.

Legislation granting the District congressional representation will likely face a legal challenge that would end in the Supreme Court.

Critics say the bill violates Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that “representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states.”

The District is not considered a state - but is treated as one for certain purposes such as the collection of federal income tax - and is largely overseen by Congress.

Supporters say Congress has the power to give the District a representative because of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District.

In response to political concerns, the bill would add two seats to the House of Representatives - one from the largely Democratic District and one from Republican-leaning Utah.

Utah now has one Democratic representative and two Republicans in the House and is the next to receive a new seat based on the 2000 census.

The voting rights bill is considered to have its best chance of passage in years, with an expanded Democratic majority in both houses of Congress and President Obama’s support, which contrasts with President Bush’s promised veto.

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