Feds seek control of local zoning
“This was no accident; this was a purposeful sham,” said Mike Hardiman, spokesman for the American Land Rights Association, who lined up shortly after 8 a.m. to attend the 9:30 a.m. hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. He said the senators were trying to pass an indefensible bill in secret.
The bill establishes a federal grant program that would pay to communities 90 percent of the cost of updating local zoning regulations. The subsidies would go to municipalities that meet guidelines established under the Clinton administration to “improve environmental policy” and avert “loss of community character,” terms opponents call code words for anti-development regulations.
The bill’s sponsors are Sens. James M. Jeffords, a Vermont independent, and Lincoln Chaffee, a Rhode Island Republican.
Hardiman said a Senate aide at 9:20 a.m. told him and others gathered to watch the vote that the time and place of the meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had been changed.
It had been moved to the “President’s Room,” to which the public has no access. But when Hardiman and others demanded to know where and when, they were told only “somewhere in the Capitol between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.”
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The precise place was posted only after more than a dozen members of the public had left the Senate office building. Committee members gathered in the secluded room shortly after 10 a.m. to pass the Community Character Act on a 12-7 vote.
A committee spokesman said the location was changed because two Senate floor votes also were scheduled for 9:30 a.m. The full Senate sets its vote times at the close of the previous day’s business.
Jeffords, the panel chairman, started to move the bills on a voice vote, but Republicans called for the votes to be recorded.
As the vote came to a close, Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-New Hampshire and an imposing figure in the small room said, “You didn’t call my name, and I am the ranking member,” as Republicans whispered to one another to keep the vote open, but they failed.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said Republicans were told that the committee would vote after the two Senate votes and urged that the committee vote remain open.
“Some of our members wish to be recorded,” said Sen. John W. Warner, R-Virginia.
Voting in favor were Chafee, Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, and Democrats Max Baucus of Montana, Harry Reid of Nevada, Bob Graham of Florida, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Jeffords.
Voting against the bill were Republican Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Christopher Bond of Missouri, George Voinovich of Ohio, Smith, Inhofe and Warner.
Republican senators, asked about the room change, said the decision was out of their control, as Democrats run the committee.
Inhofe was the only senator who asked for his written objections to be entered into record.
“I am opposing this legislation we are about to railroad through,” he said.
“We tried to be as accomodating as possible,” added committee spokesman Erik Smulson. “The meeting was open to the media and to anyone who had a form of identification the Capitol Hill police would let in.”
The Capitol remains under rigid security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Even before then, however, the President’s Room was restricted to staff and media.
“I need to get press credentials,” said Bob Harrison, director of public policy for Defenders of Property Rights. “Whatever protection they can give the bill in committee, they will not be able to give when the bill is on the floor.”
Patricia Callihan of the American Association of Small Property Owners, called Thursday’s move a “sneaky bait and switch.”
“We are furious about what happened. We’re going to have to put a tracking device on this legislation. It’s harder to find than gold,” Miss Callihan said.
Former Vail Daily reporter Audrey Hudson covers the U.S. Senate for The Washington Times.