A recent bill aimed at making it easier for NASA to raise money by leasing underutilized facilities went unexpectedly: expanding the right to vote.
The NASA property bill has been turned into “Freedom to Vote: The John R. Lewis Act” under Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, seeking to undermine Republican opposition to expanding the franchise.
The law includes provisions such as turning Election Day into a federal holiday, allowing same-day voter registration, expanding early voting and voting by mail, and allowing more types of non-photo ID to vote, according to Business Insider.
The House passed the bill Thursday (January 13) by 220 to 203 votes, with each representative voting along partisan lines, according to Space News.
But in the meantime, NASA still lacks the ability to enter certain types of leases to generate revenue. NASA’s mandate to do so expired on December 31, which means the agency cannot enter into new agreements with companies, government agencies, or educational institutions to lease unused space.
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that oversees NASA activities, said he’s not happy to move the bill from its original focus to allow the agency to enter into enhanced use leases.
“Good politics does not require secrecy and schemes. This is no way to govern,” Lucas said in a statement emailed to voters, claiming the House had only 12 hours to vote on the issue after 735 pages of an invoice had been processed.
What’s more, he said, “by stripping the NASA bill and replacing it with an attempt to impose federal control over elections, they have killed our only vehicle to expand NASA’s power to lease underutilized property and save taxpayers money.”
However, the Democratic representative, who initially introduced NASA’s lease bill in October, hailed the move as a way to offer expanded access to voting.
In a statement released before the law was passed, Representative Don Beyer (D-Virginia) said the bill would counter “attacks on Americans’ ability to exercise their right to vote.”
He added, “Although I did not anticipate this outcome when I first introduced NASA’s Enhanced Use Lease Extension Act, ‘If my legislation helps overcome the disruption, the Senate can finally have the long-awaited debate on these voting rights’ worth.” Country . I am honored to make this unexpected contribution to the cause of protecting our democracy.”
The bill, also known as HR 5746, has had a long journey into legislation. After it was introduced in October, the House of Representatives voted to allow NASA again to enter leases for the next 10 years on December 8, allowing the bill in the Senate.
The Senate amended the bill to allow an extension of NASA by just three months, instead of 10 years, but passed it unanimously. But as soon as the House re-received the bill according to normal procedures, something new happened, according to SpaceNews.
Space News reported that “the House Democratic leadership, in an unusual move, then took the revised Senate bill and repealed NASA’s rulings, replacing it with the text of two voting rights bills.”
“They did so because HR 5746 had already passed the House and Senate,” the report added, “so the revised version can go directly to the Senate floor without threat from Senate Republicans, who oppose the Voting Rights Act.”
As for NASA hire, that’s still up in the air. But a Bayer spokesperson told SpaceNews he hopes to address this issue in future legislation.
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