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House Democrats preparing 'comprehensive' voting rights bill to honor Lewis

House Democrats preparing 'comprehensive' voting rights bill to honor Lewis
© Greg Nash

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats pick DeLauro to lead Appropriations panel Congress faces late-year logjam Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (D-Md.) said that Democrats are planning to unveil voting rights legislation in the coming days and bring it up for a vote as a way to honor the legacy of the late civil rights icon Rep. John LewisJohn LewisKwanza Hall wins race to briefly succeed John Lewis in Congress Congress must act to protect and expand Social Security benefits Ossoff features Obama in TV ad ahead of Georgia runoff MORE (D-Ga.).

Hoyer said that Democratic leaders and relevant committee chairs, led by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), are crafting the bill to supplement legislation that the House passed in December to restore key parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibited racial discrimination in voting practices.

Hoyer said the goal is to introduce the bill, which will be named after Lewis, who died four days ago, by the end of this week. 

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Hoyer said that the legislation, which he described as "comprehensive," is likely to address providing resources for election officials, including for vote-by-mail plans during the coronavirus pandemic. It will also deal with the components of the bill that the House already passed to address the part of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, which required certain states to obtain clearance from the Justice Department before making changes to election laws.

"I think all of those things are part of the discussion," Hoyer said. "There can be no greater tribute to John Lewis than to having a bill passed that protects and affirms the right for which he worked all his life."

The bill that House Democrats passed in December would develop a process to determine which states must receive Justice Department clearance if they have a history of voting rights violations.  

Lawmakers are also considering a variety of other ways to honor Lewis, who was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington and suffered a skull fracture at the hands of police during a confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on what became known as "Bloody Sunday."

The violence against the civil rights activists on Bloody Sunday sparked public outrage that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act months later.

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"He personifies that commitment to achieving voting equity and access and fairness for all Americans," Hoyer said. "He knew the most fundamental right in a democracy was the right to vote."

Numerous Democrats, including Hoyer, have expressed support for having Lewis lie in state in the Capitol rotunda, a rare honor granted to only the most revered American public figures. 

But the practice of having hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the public walk through the Capitol to pay their respects is complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to the suspension of public tours since March. 

Any announcement isn't expected until later this week at the earliest. Lewis's family has delayed announcing its plans until after the burial of the Rev. C.T. Vivian, another civil rights figure who also died Friday. Vivian's services are scheduled for Thursday.