NASA lease bill morphs into “freedom to vote” legislation

A recent bill intended to make it easier for NASA to raise money by leasing underused facilities took a very unexpected direction: expanding voting rights.

The NASA-owned bill morphed into the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act” under House Democratic leadership, which seeks to undermine Republican opposition to franchise expansion.

The law includes provisions like making Election Day a federal holiday, allowing same-day voter registration, expanding early voting and voting by mail, and allowing more types of non-photo IDs to vote, according to Business Insider.

An exterior view of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a portion of which is now leased to private companies to generate revenue for NASA. (Image credit: NASA)

The House approved the bill on Thursday (Jan. 13) by a 220-203 vote, with each representative voting along party lines, according to SpaceNews.

But in the meantime, NASA does not yet have the ability to enter specific types of leases to generate revenue. NASA’s authority 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), a ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that oversees NASA activities, said he was unhappy with moving the bill from its original focus to allow for the agency to enter into improved use leases.

“Good politics requires no secrecy or schemes. This is no way to govern,” Lucas said in a statement emailed to constituents, saying the House only had 12 hours to vote on the issue after 735 were added. pages to the list. bill.

“Moreover,” he said, “by removing this NASA bill and replacing it with an attempt to impose federal control of elections, they have killed our only vehicle for extending NASA’s authority to lease underutilized properties and save money from the taxpayers.”

However, the Democratic representative who initially introduced the NASA lease bill in October praised the move as a way to offer greater access to the vote.

President Joe Biden speaks outside the White House. (Image credit: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In a statement issued before the bill was passed, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) said the bill will counter “attacks on the ability of Americans to exercise their right to vote.”

“Although I did not expect this result when I first introduced the NASA Enhanced Use Lease Extension Act,” he added, “if my legislation helps to overcome the filibuster, the Senate can finally have the long-awaited debate on the rights of vote this country deserves. I would be honored to make this unexpected contribution to the cause of protecting our democracy.”

The bill, also known as HR 5746, had a long way to go into legislation. After its introduction in October, the House voted to allow NASA to once again enter into leases for the next 10 years on December 8, allowing the bill to go to the Senate.

The Senate modified the bill to allow only a three-month extension for NASA, instead of 10 years, but passed it unanimously. But once the House received the bill again under normal procedures, something new happened, according to SpaceNews.

The Orion capsule was seen sitting on the South Lawn of the White House on July 22, 2018. (Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

“The House Democratic leadership, in an unusual move, then took the Senate-amended bill and removed the NASA provisions, replacing it with the text of two voting rights bills,” SpaceNews stated.

“They did so because HR 5746 had already passed the House and Senate,” the report added, “so the amended version could go directly to the full Senate without the threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans, who oppose voting rights legislation.

As for the NASA lease, that’s still up in the air. But a Beyer spokesperson told SpaceNews that he hopes to address that issue in future legislation.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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