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Voting rights for territorial delegates pushed

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer is urging the House Rules Committee to extend voting privileges to House delegates representing the U.S. territories including Guam, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico.

In a Dec. 19 letter, Hoyer asked Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the House Committee on Rules, to consider the voting privileges for territorial representatives on the rules package for the 115th Congress.

“As you know, we treat House Delegates and the Resident Commissioner for almost all purposes the same as we treat all other Members. The extension of the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole shows them a respect for their status and for the people they represent. I believe this action is both worthy of our great democracy and required by our commitment to representative government,” Hoyer said.

“Delegate voting is not only constitutional; it improves the legislative process and the degree to which the House of Representatives accurately reflects the 310 million Americans who are subject to the laws it passes. In that sense, every American benefits,” he added.

In early in the 110th Congress, the House adopted a rules provision granting territorial delegates the privilege to cast a vote in the Committee of the Whole. This provision carried over into the 111th Congress, when it was also applied to the new House Delegate representing the Northern Mariana Islands.

“I was the lead sponsor of the House resolution that the House adopted on Jan. 24, 2007 permitting Delegates and the Resident Commissioner to cast votes in the Committee of the Whole,” Hoyer said. “The provision was identical to the one that existed in the 103rd Congress, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in 1994 was constitutional.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo made the same request when he testified before the House Committee on Rules in September.

“I thank our Democratic Whip, Congressman Steny Hoyer, for again urging the Republican Majority to amend the Rules of the House to permit the Delegates from the territories and D.C. to vote in the Committee of the Whole. Whip Hoyer has been a firm supporter of the territories, and I appreciate his consistent leadership in working to ensure that votes cast in the House reflect the voices of all Americans,” Bordallo said.

Hoyer cited two reasons for pushing for voting privileges on behalf of the territorial delegates.

First, the Committee of the Whole is the functional equivalent of regular House committees. Hoyer said that in both instances, the function of these committees is to expedite consideration of bills and amendments while ensuring that debate is fair to both sides of the aisle. Since House delegates and the resident commissioner have had the right to vote in House committees since 1971, it stands to reason that they should also have the right to cast a vote in the Committee of the Whole, he added.

Second, House Delegates and the Resident Commissioner are elected by constituents, just as all House members are, and collectively represent almost 5 million people. “Furnishing Delegates and the Resident Commissioner the opportunity to express, for the record, their positions on issues of significance that are before the Committee of the Whole strengthens the ability of the electorates in the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories and possessions to hold their representatives to account at election time,” Hoyer told the committee chair.

(The Times News Staff)

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