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Senate Pushes Forward Bill to Give Utah and DC New House Seats

Senate Pushes Forward Bill to Give Utah and DC New House Seats

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- With a room full of supporters cheering them on, a Senate panel voted 9-1 Wednesday to move forward on a bill creating new House seats for Utah and the District of Columbia. The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote, likely in July.

Supporters of District voting rights packed the hearing room for the homeland security committee's decision and applauded and cheered as senators approved it. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said the bill corrects what he called "a matter of grave injustice" and a "national disgrace." "I do feel optimistic that this is the year that we can finally bestow upon the citizens of the District the civic entitlement that every other federal taxpaying American citizen enjoys," he said.

Although debate has focused primarily on whether the Constitution allows the District a voting member of the House, the bill also would grant Utah a fourth House seat, which state officials believe they should have received after the last census.

Utah missed a fourth House seat by just 857 people in 2000. Officials have argued that the government should have counted more than 11,000 Mormon missionaries living overseas.

Utah was added to the bill in part to make it more palatable to Republicans. Conservative Utah is expected to elect a Republican to the new seat, while District voters would almost certainly choose a Democrat.

The city currently has a delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is allowed to vote only in House committees.

But the bill still faces a high hurdle. Although it has passed the House, several Republican senators argue the Constitution gives only states a voting member of the House. The White House also opposes the bill.

Even if the president agrees to the measure, it would almost certainly be challenged in court. An amendment offered Wednesday by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would ensure it would get an expedited review by the courts.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., cast the lone vote against the bill, although other Republicans said at the hearing that they were opposed. "I have voted against this in the past, I will continue to vote against it now," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who left before the vote. "It's a step toward creating a city-state in the United States, and it's not consistent with our Constitution. The process of city-states led to the destruction of other nations in the past, and I don't see any reason to start it here."

Criticism came from Democrats as well. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he didn't see the need to add Utah to the bill, although he voted for it. "It does bother me in the bill that we are going to arbitrarily give another House seat to offset this seat," Tester said. "Why should we stop there? Montana is a big state. It has 930,000 people in it, and if we were to add eight or 10 more, we probably would get another House seat too."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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