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The NASA lease measure evolved into a bill on voting rights

After a bill meant to reauthorize NASA was turned in the House into voting rights legislation, the agency’s ability to lease properties at its facilities to firms or other organizations is in jeopardy. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who is the chairperson of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, introduced H.R. 5746 in October. NASA’s authority to enter into enhanced use leases (EULs), of agency property to firms, educational institutions or government agencies was extended for another ten years by the bill. The bill was passed by voice vote in the House on December 8.

The Senate revised the bill, expanding the EUL permission for only three months rather than ten years, and sent it back to the House with unanimous assent. In an uncommon move, the House Democratic leadership deleted the NASA provisions from the Senate-amended bill, substituting them with the text of 2 voting rights legislation now known as the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.” They did so because H.R.  5746 had already survived the House and Senate, the revised version could proceed to the Senate floor without the danger of a filibuster by Senate Republicans who oppose the voting rights bill.

The NASA components of the bill were effectively sacrificed as a result of the adjustment, which Beyer said he accepted. “Though I did not expect this conclusion when I first sponsored the NASA Enhanced Use Leasing Extension Act,” he said in a statement on January 13, “if my legislation can help alleviate the filibuster, the Senate can now have the long-overdue debate on the voting rights this nation needs.” “It would be a pleasure for me to make this unexpected gift to the cause of democracy protection.”

The law was enacted by the House on January 13 by a vote of 220 to 203, with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans voting against it. Members of the Republican Party, including several who were co-sponsors of the original H.R. 5746, slammed the decision to use the NASA measure as a vehicle for voting rights legislation.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma), who is a House Science Committee’s ranking member, stated in a statement that “the majority has shredded a practical, bipartisan bill, injecting 735 pages of irrelevant legislation and pushing the House to vote on it only 12 hours after the text was posted.” “What’s more, by repealing this NASA bill and substituting it with an effort to impose federal election control, they’ve effectively removed our only avenue for NASA to lease off unused property and also save taxpayer money.”

NASA’s EUL authority expired on December 31, preventing the agency from entering into new leases until it is renewed. As of 2019, NASA had inked leases for 65 assets, generating almost $11 million in revenue which was used to fund additional facility renovations.

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