Dueling Bills: S.160 vs. H.R. 157

408px-TallahaseePalmBeachBallotBox1 photo credit – infrogmation. Licensed under a Creative Commons license

While Congress was busy listening to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speak, we were working on bringing you a look at the two competing versions of the DC Voting Rights Act. Several news sources suggest controversy over district gun laws is derailing consideration in the House, but we'll keep you updated.

There are two versions of the act. The first is S.160, which passed the Senate 61-37 last week. The second is H.R. 157, which cleared the House Judiciary Committee last week. PDFs of the bills' texts are available here and here, respectively.

So what is the difference? The first is superficial: the Senate bill is four times longer than the House's — 32 pages versus eight. The difference is largely due to a raft of amendments included in the Senate version. We will come to those in a bit.

But even ignoring the amendments, there are several substantive differences. First, S.160 explicitly states that the district cannot receive a senator; H.R. 157 does not. S.160 also limits the district to one representative, regardless of future population increases. 

Both of these Senate provisions are intended to minimize the potential for the district to receive more representation beyond the representative the bill would grant it. But they are likely unnecessary — several senators who support S.160 have said they oppose a senator for Washington, D.C., and the odds of the district ever growing fast enough to earn a second representative are low. As of 2008, the estimated population of the district is approximately 590,000, which would give it a representative per capita ratio nearly one-and-a-half times as high as that of Arizona.

After the jump, we look at how Utah will elect its new representative as well as discuss the amendments to S.160.

The two bills also vary in the selection of area Utah's new representative would  cover: In H.R. 157 he or she will serve in an at-large district covering the entire state; S.160 follows a redistricting plan Utah created in 2006 in case the state gained a representative.

One bizarre distinction between the bills: H.R. 157 does not abolish the district delegate position. As such, the district could have one voting representative while still maintaining its non-voting delegate position. S.160 eliminates this possibility.

And then, of course, there are the amendments. S.160 picked up three modifications on the Senate floor.

The first came from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). It prohibits the
Federal Communications Commission from
reimposing the "Fairness Doctrine," which mandates broadcast outlets devote time to controversial issues of public interest as well as air contrasting views on those subjects. Many Republicans feared Democrats would reimpose it in an attempt to kill conservative talk radio, despite President Obama saying he had no interest in reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) proposed the second, which requires the FCC to "encourage and promote diversity in communication media ownership and to ensure that broadcast station licenses are used in the public interest." It also included language to prevent DeMint's amendment from being used to influence FCC policy not pertaining to the Fairness Doctrine.

The final, and most troublesome amendment, came from Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). In effect, it overturns almost all of the district's gun laws. Ensign titled the amendment the "Second Amendment Enforcement Act."

After the Supreme Court ruled against the district's existing gun policy in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, the city implemented stringent registration and licensing requirements. Many complained that the new regulations in effect reimplemented the city's gun ban, despite the court's ruling that it was illegal. DeMint's amendment overturns these regulations.

It is the DeMint amendment that is delaying consideration of H.R. 157 in the House. As the article linked above notes, Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) fears the introduction of a similar amendment in the House, which would then be nearly impossible to remove in conference.

Will the House version come to resemble the Senate's when the House finally debates the bill? Or will the differences take a conference committee to resolve? Tell us what you think.