WASHINGTON – A House committee recommended legislation Wednesday that would provide for fast special elections (search) if a terrorist attack killed or incapacitated many House members.
The measure would require expedited elections under "extraordinary circumstances" when the speaker of the House announces that vacancies in the 435-member chamber exceed 100.
The bill, approved 18-10, stipulates that parties choose candidates within 10 days of that announcement and that state elections be held within 45 days.
The legislation has also been approved by the House Administration Committee (search) and now goes to the full House for consideration.
Lawmakers have been considering the ramifications of mass casualties in Congress since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. The Senate would be less of a problem because governors can appoint senators when vacancies arise prior to an election. Vacancies in the House are filled by special elections.
Some lawmakers, and an independent commission created after the 2001 attacks, have backed the idea of a constitutional amendment (search) that would give the states the flexibility to fill House vacancies either by special elections or appointment.
But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the main sponsor of the legislation considered on Wednesday, has opposed the amendment route, saying the House should maintain its status as a popularly elected body. His bill, he said, would "protect the people's right to chosen representation."
Several Democrats on the panel questioned whether 45 days was enough time to prepare for a special election and urged that hearings be held before they act on the bill.