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With Only One Vote, McConnell Approves Treaty for the Blind

Majority leader used rare Senate procedure of the standing vote

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made use of a rare procedure to help approve the so-called Marrakesh Treaty. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made use of a rare procedure to help approve the so-called Marrakesh Treaty. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A five-year campaign for a copyright exemption designed to make it easier for the blind and physically impaired to get access to foreign works of music and literature moved a step closer to being realized, under a rarely used Senate procedure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday night engineered the approval of the so-called Marrakesh Treaty by using the chamber’s rarely used procedure of the standing vote.

In this case, the Kentucky Republican found himself standing alone on the Senate floor after a long debate on the farm bill, and thus met the threshold for treaty approval: a two-thirds majority of senators present.

When the presiding officer, Indiana GOP Sen. Todd Young, called for senators in support to “stand and be counted,” McConnell was standing.

When Young asked for opponents to stand, McConnell briefly sat down.

Watch: McConnell Uses Rare ‘Stand and Be Counted’ Procedure to Pass Treaty

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The procedure was possible because the Constitution requires the agreement of two-thirds of senators present, but there is no quorum requirement.

Moments later, McConnell won passage of the Marrakesh Treaty bill by unanimous consent, which he likely got senators to agree to off the floor before he started the procedure. The bill, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, would implement the Marrakesh Treaty’s goal of wider international availability of accessible copies of material for blind and other disabled persons. The treaty was negotiated in Marrakesh, Morocco, in 2013.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, 20-0, in May.

The measure would expand a copyright exemption for domestic use of accessible literary works and printed musical works for blind and other disabled persons under a 1996 law. It would allow for the exportation and importation of such accessible items, which often are reproduced in formats such as Braille, large print and audio.

The bill would require authorized groups to limit use of such accessible materials only to the eligible users, including those who are blind; have a visual impairment, perceptual or reading disability; are unable to read; or are unable to manipulate a book. Eligible persons and libraries would be able to export or import works to or from the more than 30 countries that are party to the Marrakesh Treaty.

Supporters of the measure said they were hopeful that the Senate-passed measure would be held at the desk and passed by the House soon after lawmakers return from recess the week of July 9.

“The concerns of all stakeholders have been addressed,″ said Jonathan Band, counsel for the Library Copyright Alliance, a coalition of trade groups for libraries “We look forward to clear sailing.” 

A House Judiciary aide said committee lawmakers and staff were examining the Senate-passed bill and potential next procedural steps for the measure.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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