Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., says he won't allow a full hearing on a bill to give Utah a fourth seat and the District of Columbia its first vote in Congress until Utah lawmakers have a "final Utah redistricting plan," according to his spokesman, Jeff Lungren.
The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday announced the agenda for the final hearing in this year's regular session and the DC-Utah bill wasn't on the slate. Lungren says the bill is being held up pending a final map.
Though with Congress ending its session this week, there's a chance the measure may never get heard. The House and Senate plan to come back to work for about two weeks in mid-November after the general election, though it's unclear what items will be up for debate.
Still, supporters of the measure are holding out hope the bill will still move forward.
"We believe the bill's chances during the lame-duck [session] are better than 50-50, and significantly better than that if Utah officials reach agreement on a new map that is satisfactory to all stakeholders," says David Marin, staff director for the Government Reform Committee, headed by the legislation's sponsor, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.
"Once Utah moves, so will Congress." Sensenbrenner already has said he will seek to change the measure to remove a provision that would allow the fourth seat to be elected at-large until after the 2010 Census redistricting. That provision was added to soothe Democrats concerned the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature would move the state's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, into a more Republican district.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and legislative leaders last week came forward with a four-seat plan that would create a single Democratic- leaning seat and three heavily Republican districts, a move they said was to help assuage Democrats' concerns that Matheson would be hurt in redistricting.
A spokesman for Huntsman says the bill is “still very much alive” though the office is unsure of the timing on moving forward.
"The governor is willing to call a special session, if appropriate,” said spokesman Mike Mower.
The proposed new 2nd District would cover north Salt Lake County and Summit and Morgan counties.
Utah was added to the legislation as a way of balancing the addition of a voting member for the heavily Democratic District of Columbia, whose 600,000 residents currently have a delegate who can vote in committee meetings only. The legislation, which already passed the Government Reform Committee by a 29-4 vote, would permanently increase the House by two members to 437.