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Senate Provides Boost to Pair of D.C. Memorials

Two Washington memorials, one in the planning stages and the other seeking an addition, got a jump-start in the Senate on Wednesday morning.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a measure to extend construction time of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial by three years, along with a bill to create an education center for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“We are very enthusiastic about today’s events,” said Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund spokesman Alan Greilsamer. “I think that the momentum is there. We’re confident that this will get passed.”

LeRoy Lowery, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, shared Greilsamer’s jubilation.

“We are obviously very pleased,” Lowery said. “We have all assurances that [the bill] will be passed before the end of the current session and it’s pretty much right on schedule.”

Energy Committee spokeswoman Marnie Funk said the King legislation, introduced by Sens. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) in February, will likely move quickly to the Senate floor because Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has “a personal interest” in the bill.

But establishing a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center may not be as easy, thanks to a controversial amendment approved today that prohibits the construction of future monuments on the National Mall. Although there was no discussion of the amendment, proposed by Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and ranking member Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), similar language caused lethal holds in the 106th and the 107th Congresses.

“Given that it is the same amendment and the same issue, it might get a hold,” said a staffer close to the committee. The aide added that such action could prevent the bill from ever seeing the light of day this session.

But Greilsamer remains hopeful.

“We feel cautiously optimistic that the bill will move through the 108th Congress,” he said of the legislation introduced by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) in May.

On the other side of the Capitol, committee votes on two similar pieces of legislation are still pending. The House Resources Committee discussed the King memorial at a hearing this week and held a field hearing on the Mall regarding the Vietnam Memorial education center May 21.

“We’re trying to get ready to mark them up,” Resources spokesman Doug Heye said.

The visitor center will take about four years to build once it is approved by Congress and it will cost around $10 million, all of which would be paid for by the Memorial Fund. Although the design is in very preliminary stages, the center is expected to span about 10,000 square feet underneath the Memorial’s existing two-acre site.

The King memorial will be built on a four-acre site adjacent to the Tidal Basin. It will stand opposite the Jefferson Memorial and to the north of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. With about $25 million in the bank, the Foundation has to raise about $75 million more. Construction is slated to start in December 2004.

At a hearing earlier this month, Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), who introduced the House version of the bill, testified that King’s name “must be mentioned” in the same group of national heroes as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. She added that his memorial’s presence will “complement” the surrounding memorials.

“The monument is a testimony to our reverence for Dr. King’s contribution,” she said.

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