Congress stalls D.C. vote bill

Congress has continued to stall the D.C. House Voting Rights Act more than two months after a controversial gun amendment was added.

Nearly 100 people attended a rally near the Capitol on Tuesday to raise awareness about the bill, which would give the District a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. Organized by D.C. Vote, a local advocacy group, the rally was intended to get the bill back onto the radar of Congress, which has been out of session for the last two weeks.

“We really wanted to remind Congress as they returned that they have unfinished business,” said Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, public affairs director for D.C. Vote. “We wanted to send a signal to Congress to understand that citizens are still supportive of moving a D.C. voting rights [bill], but one that is clean and free from amendments.”

Supporters of the bill were optimistic earlier this year that it would pass quickly due to the Democratic Congress and support from President Barack Obama.

But Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., created a problem for Democrats when he added an amendment to the bill that would repeal many of the District’s gun laws. The bill passed in the Senate with the amendment attached, and a similar tweak was made to the House version of measure.

If the House passes the current bill and Obama signs it, many of the District’s gun laws will be drastically changed, said Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery, communications director for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

District residents will be able to purchase weapons in Maryland and Virginia and cross state lines with their weapons, making it the only jurisdiction in the United States with such an exception, Montgomery said. The amendment would also allow for the purchase of armor-piercing weapons, allow mentally institutionalized individuals to buy guns upon release from their institutions and prevent the District from revising safety laws or responding to unforeseeable events.

Officials expect the bill to come to a vote in May.

While gun supporters like the National Rifle Association stand behind the amendment, Norton faces the dilemma of trying to get the District a vote while not sacrificing the territory’s gun laws.

“My job will be to get D.C.’s voting rights bill passed, not to take on the larger mission of protecting the federal presence and the federal officials from the stockpiling of .50 caliber armor-piercing weapons by criminals or terrorists, as the Ensign amendment would allow,” Norton said in a news release earlier this month. “However, I believe that I should not just take D.C.’s vote and run.”

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