House Democrats urge sweeping reforms to boost voting access

Rep. John Sarbanes D-Md. speaks during a news conference to unveil House Democrats' anti-corruption bill the For the People Act at the U.S. Capitol on Friday

Rep. John Sarbanes D-Md. speaks during a news conference to unveil House Democrats' anti-corruption bill the For the People Act at the U.S. Capitol on Friday

Dubbed the "For the People Act", the legislation marks an effort by Democrats to set a tone of good government as they take the majority following historic gains in the midterm elections.

The bill, which will become the first priority of numerous House's most high-profile committees, is expected to move swiftly through the House of Representatives, but won't pass in the Republican-controlled Senate or be signed by the President. Passage will prepare the way for efforts to raise the minimum wage, lower the price of prescription drugs and protect the environment, he said.

While President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have not actively sought remedies for voter suppression, antiquated election administration policies, and refused to end the era of super-PACs, H.R. 1 has the ingredients to awaken many Americans that have become disillusioned with the political process.

"H.R. 1 is the delivering on that promise back to the American people and telling them, in return for you giving us the gavel, we are going to do everything we can, everything single day, to give you your democracy back", Sarbanes said. Although the legislation is unlikely to pass a Senate controlled by Republicans or be signed by Trump himself, it is nevertheless meant to signal what Democrats intend to focus on as a party.

Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland told reporters that the bill was meant to "set the table" on what Democratic priorities in the new Congress look like even if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won't take them up in the Senate.

Presidential candidates have typically released several years of their tax returns as a gesture of transparency, but they are not now required to do so by law.

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"It's important for what it does, it's important for the confidence it gives people that their voices, their concerns, are heard", House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday at a news conference unveiling the legislation. It would also restore protections from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

"We want to make it easier to vote - not harder", Sarbanes said, citing voter suppression efforts previous year in Georgia, Ohio and other states.

The bill would also give the Office of Government Ethics more authority to strictly enforce violations of ethics law, such as the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from using official resources for political purposes, a provision repeatedly violated by Trump administration officials, according to the Office of Special Counsel, an independent government investigative agency that is not affiliated with the the Russian Federation investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Besides election provisions, the bill would set up a public financing system for House races and require political groups to disclose donors.

In a move created to reduce partisan gerrymandering, the bill calls for states to establish independent redistricting commissions to draw boundaries for future congressional districts. The bill also would reauthorize and enhance the Office of Government Ethics, which has clashed with Trump. "Through automatic voter registration, secure election infrastructure, support for absentee ballots, and other measures outlined in the legislation, we will be closer to that goal".

Predicting "historic turnout" in two years, Sarbanes said officials must be prepared, not only for increased participation but for attempts at sabotage from foreign and domestic adversaries.

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