Paper Money

House Rules Committee stifles currency redesign block

Redesign of U.S. currency, both paper money and coins, would have been derailed had King’s measure been congressionally approved.

Original images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

The House Rules Committee June 21 denied floor consideration of a proposed amendment to a Treasury Department appropriations bill that would have blocked the redesign of the $20 Federal Reserve note to feature abolitionist Harriet Tubman, affected designs for future U.S. coins, including America the Beautiful quarter dollars, and more if enacted.

The proposed amendment to H.R. 5485 had been introduced June 17 in the House by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

The amendment, if passed, would have halted all redesign for U.S. paper money and coins, including changes already underway for the $10 Federal Reserve note intended to improve the note’s anti-counterfeiting properties and to comply with a 2008 federal court order requiring paper money to be accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

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King’s proposed amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2017 was targeted toward modifying the following text in the legislation:

“Sec. 119. None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the $1 Federal Reserve note.”

Had the amendment been adopted, the text would have read thus (emphasis added):

“Sec. 119. None of the funds appropriated in this Act or otherwise available to the Department of the Treasury or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may be used to redesign the [sic] any Federal Reserve note or coin.”

OPINION: King amendment threatened our coins and notes

According to news sources, Rep. King acknowledged that the amendment was intended to stop design changes that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced on April 20. Lew announced that portrayal of Andrew Jackson on the face of the $20 Federal Reserve note would be moved to the back, replaced on the face with a portrait of Tubman. A rendition of the White House will accompany Jackson’s portrait on the back.

Lew also announced at the same time that future $5 and $10 Federal notes would be redesigned to include vignettes celebrating women in U.S. history.

The portraits of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, and the 16th U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, would remain on the faces of the redesigned $10 and $5 Federal Reserve notes, respectively.

However, the reverse designs would be replaced with new designs celebrating Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights movement.

The Treasury Department building on the back of the $10 note is to be replaced with a rendering illustrating the March 3, 1913, march for women’s suffrage that ended on the steps of that structure.

Featured in the design will be likenesses of suffragists Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul.

While the back of the $5 note will retain the Lincoln Memorial, the redesign will incorporate images of events held there and include renditions of people who helped shape American history.

King’s proposed amendment would have derailed the currency redesign, which has been underway for the $10 note for some time. Prior to the new design changes announced by Lew, work was already in progress involving the addition of advanced anti-counterfeiting devices and other details to serve the needs of the blind and visually impaired under provisions of a 2008 court ruling. The note is expected to be revealed by 2020.

A lower court decision that the Treasury has failed to design, produce and issue paper money that is readily distinguishable to blind and visually impaired individuals was upheld May 20, 2008, in United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit originally filed in 2002 by the American Council for the Blind and two visually impaired individuals, Patrick Sheehan and Otis Stephens, alleged that the physical design of the Federal Reserve notes violates Section 504 of the federal Vocational Rehabilitation Act.

Action taken by the House Rules Committee June 21 not to put the proposed amendment to the full House for consideration allows the Treasury Department to continue the redesign initiative currently unimpeded.

Representatives from King’s office failed to respond to Coin World’s multiple emails and telephone calls for comment on the proposed amendment. 

Officials from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the U.S. Mint also declined to comment on the measure.  

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