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Democrats Seek End Run on Probe

Acknowledging that it may be too soon to expect victims of Hurricane Katrina to organize their own campaign for an independent commission to investigate government preparation and response to the storm, House Democrats plan to unveil a discharge petition Tuesday that would force a floor vote on the proposal.

“A significant number of people from the Gulf are scattered, so it is difficult [for them] to act as a collective,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), the author of legislation that would create a 9/11-style independent commission, said last week.

Although House lawmakers approved the creation of a select committee to investigate events surrounding the hurricane earlier this month, Democrats have objected to the panel’s majority composition, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has refused to appoint Caucus members to the panel.

In the meantime, Democrats have continued to push for an independent panel similar to one created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Hastings, Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), and Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) are scheduled to announce the discharge petition at a press conference this morning.

A resolution or bill must first sit in committee for at least 30 legislative days before a discharge petition can be introduced, however, requiring Hastings to wait until early November, depending on the House calendar.

But in the meantime, some victims of the hurricane may already be reaching out to those organizations formed by families of those who died in the 9/11 attacks who successfully pushed for an independent commission.

“They wanted to understand what the process was like for us,” said Mary Fetchet, founding director of Voices of September 11th, an advocacy group for victims and families of the 2001 terrorist attacks, who said she has been contacted by individual families in recent weeks.

Fetchet, whose 24-year-old son, Bradley James Fetchet, died in the attack on the World Trade Center buildings, served on the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission, the umbrella organization that pushed for an independent investigation of the attacks.

“The process that we went through is certainly a template for an individual that has been directly affected to become part of the important process of advocating for a commission,” Fetchet said.

When contacted, Fetchet said she has told the hurricane victims about her own experience, often noting that she had no prior political experience.

“I thought that my son and nearly 3,000 others’ lives can not be lost in vain, that we had to understand what our mistakes were in an effort to make the country safe,” Fetchet said.

She added that she has advised the hurricane victims: “They have to work in a bipartisan manner and that they have to develop a relationship with people, whether it’s Congressional people or other family members that have that same vision, that feel as passionate as they do, that they have to identify the mistakes so that they can hopefully make the country safer and more prepared.”

Although Fetchet is supportive of an independent commission to investigate Katrina — and sees many overlapping areas of concern with the events of 9/11, such as emergency preparedness and response, as well as communications — she said that should not preclude Congressional oversight into the matter.

“Congress has to do its job and provide oversight,” Fetchet said, later adding: “I don’t think they’d be duplicating their efforts. They should complement one another.”

The House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina is scheduled to hold its second hearing this morning, including testimony from former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown.

Further hearings are expected, although it has yet to be determined whether any hurricane victims will be invited to testify.

A spokesman for the panel’s chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), stated: “At this point, everything is on the table.”

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