Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Renewal of Voting Rights Act on Hold

The idea was to pass it a year early and use it as campaign fodder on both sides of the political divide. However, the attempt to renew the portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that expire next year was put on hold today by House Republican Leadership after they received pressure to delay the vote.

Republican members from the south who said that southern states should no longer be targeted in the act argued, in a private caucus meeting Wednesday morning, that until those provisions were removed they would continue to voice their opposition.

The bill, scheduled for a vote today, has bipartisan support and passed the House Judiciary committee 33 -1. In that spirit GOP leadership maintained support saying they expected to renew it "as soon as possible."

Democrats who have been pushing for a renewal vote (especially Congressional Black Caucus members) expressed disappointment in the delay. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) expressed displeasure at the delay:

I"am extremely disappointed with the move today by Republican leaders to hastily and shamefully deny a scheduled vote to consider reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever enacted by Congress. The Act along with its special provisions has proven tremendously successful at expanding and protecting the opportunity for participation in the political process for all Americans and is still very much needed. Members of both parties worked extensively to create sound legislation supported by both Democrats and Republicans.”

The delay wrecks havoc with the bill's schedule. The Senate Judiciary Committee was expected to hear an identical bill next week but that is now in question. Chairman of the committee Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) says "[t]here's less pressure to do it if the House is not doing it..."

Other members of the Congressional Black Caucus also commented on the withdrawal:

Mel Watt (D-NC) Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus:

“We are extremely disappointed that the Voting Rights Act was pulled from today’s legislative calendar. We have worked extremely hard over a number of months to reach bipartisan and bicameral agreement on this legislation and had reason to believe it would be considered expeditiously. The Voting Rights Act has always had strong support from Democrats and Republicans alike. We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intensions space and time to politicize the issue.”

Artur Davis (D-AL):

“I am disappointed that for the second time, the Voting Rights Act has been pulled off the House agenda. The VRA has protected black and white southerners from election abuses for over 40 years, and we Alabamians should be thankful for it. While the statute is complicated, it has worked and Congress should resist schemes to weaken it or to make it impossible to administer. I hope that my Alabama colleagues in the House and Senate who have been on the other side of this issue will re-think their position.”

Barbara Lee (D-CA):

“The Voting Rights Act has been a critical tool in helping fight discrimination in voting and ensuring the proper functioning of our democracy and I can’t understand why anyone would oppose this bipartisan bill,” said Lee. “I hope the Republican leadership can sort out their problems with this so that we can act quickly to pass this critical legislation.”
The bipartisan bill, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 (H.R. 9), reauthorizes for 25 years key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that are set to expire in 2007. It was originally put on the suspension calendar, which expedites votes for measures considered to be uncontroversial.


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