Senate Vote Gives District a Voting House Member
By TIMOTHY J. ALBERTA
WASHINGTON--The Senate voted 61-37 for landmark legislation that would give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives, but not before Republicans succeeded in attaching an amendment that would overturn many of the District's gun-control laws.
Senate passage was widely seen as the legislation's biggest obstacle. A similar measure is expected to easily pass the House next week, and the gun amendment undoubtedly will be debated when members from both chambers meet to iron out differences between the two versions.
"We passed a significant hurdle in our fight for full democracy for D.C. residents," said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, a nonprofit group that has championed the legislation.
The bill would create two new House seats beginning in January 2011, one for the reliably Democratic District and another for fast-growing and reliably Republican Utah. House membership would grow to 437 members from the current 435.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill -- he cosponsored the 2007 Senate version -- but that likely won't be the end of this dispute.
Constitutional scholars on both sides of the issue expect the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the bill's fate. Opponents say the Constitution limits voting rights to the "several States" while advocates say the Constitution gives Congress authority "To exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district."
The gun control amendment comes eight months after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned Washington, D.C.'s 32-year-old ban on handgun possession. GOP Sen. John Ensign, who sponsored the amendment, said in a statement after the vote that "the Senate spoke clearly that law-abiding citizens should be allowed to own a gun. I know that most of the people in my home state of Nevada would agree that this is a right that should not be trampled on." He added that, "Report after report continues to show that excessive gun laws do not translate into lower crime rates. Our nation's capital is example No. 1."
Mr. Zherka called the Senate vote an "historic moment," and said advocates will "keep fighting to ensure that the bill signed into law is not tainted by this amendment." Our opponents thought that they would either defeat our bill or diminish our victory by adding this gun bill amendment," he said. "They didn't."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has targeted March 6 as a deadline for final congressional passage.
When the new Congress convened last month, District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton immediately reintroduced her "signature" legislation with hopes that greater Democratic majorities in the Senate and a supportive president would finally push the bill through. An unsuccessful attempt to give the District voting right through a constitutional amendment was initiated three decades ago.