The House will advance a package of voting rights, campaign finance and ethics overhauls this month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday night. House Democrats have introduced the government overhaul package as HR 1 to reflect its priority status. They believe fundamentally changing the way government operates will increase public buy-in as Democrats pursue an economic policy agenda focused on issues such as heath care, infrastructure and climate change. “During this Black History Month, I am pleased we will be advancing H.R. 1, which contains Congressman John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act ensuring equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, and lays the groundwork of the subsequent passage of Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Pelosi wrote, citing two black lawmakers who have sponsored legislation that is part of the Democrats’ effort to overhaul voting rights laws.
While Pelosi’s comment about “advancing” HR 1 during Black History Month sounded like a commitment to a floor vote, her spokesman Drew Hammill said it was about House committees holding hearings on the measure. A floor vote could occur in late February but it might not happen until early March, he said.
Democrats had initially planned to include Sewell’s bill as part of the HR 1 package but realized they would need more time to hold hearings to establish a record that will meet the requirements of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. HR 1 says Congress should respond to that decision, which declared part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, by updating the formula that determines which state and local governments need federal preclearance before they can implement changes to their voting laws.
Pelosi’s announcement marks the first time anyone in senior leadership has in recent weeks provided a timeline for advancing the massive legislative package. Members working on the bill had initially estimated it would be ready for floor action in late January or February but that was before the partial government shutdown that lasted 35 days.