By Ann Loikow, D.C. Statehood - Yes We Can!
The Council will be considering a resolution, PR12-0839, "Advisory Referendum on the State of New Columbia Admission Act Resolution of 2016," at its legislative session on July 12. The text of the resolution can be found as a pdf at: http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/36165/PR21-0839-Introduction.pdf. The resolution was introduced by Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Bonds, Silverman, Evans, Todd, Alexander, McDuffie, Allen, Grosso, Nadeau, Cheh, Orange, and May (i.e., by everyone) at the Legislative Meeting on Jun 28, 2016. Instead of being referred to a committee, it was retained in the full Council for action.
Citizens who have been talking to Council staff have been led to believe that on July 12 the Council will not consider the terms of the constitution approved the New Columbia Statehood Commission on June 28, 2016, but instead will establish a process for considering it and holding hearings on it sometime in the fall. What this means is that the Council may not approve a constitution before the November referendum. It should be noted that the full text of the amendments made June 28 and the other conforming changes that will need to be made to the constitution as a result of the amendments have not been made public.
The language of the advisory referendum says that the voters' approval of this resolution "would establish that the citizens of the District of Columbia ... (2) approve a Constitution of the State of New Columbia to be adopted by the Council ...." (emphasis added) In other words, the voters are being asked to sign a blank check and in effect ratify a constitution that may not even be completely written when they are asked to vote on it.
This reinforces my conviction that action on a constitution should be removed from the Council's advisory referendum resolution and thus the referendum. However, the timetable in the Statehood Commission's "Statehood Plan,' which was distributed May 6 says that the referendum language must be filed with the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) by Friday, July 8. I have heard that the Council may have actually already approved the resolution on the referendum language and either has, or soon will, file it with the BOEE. In other words, the referendum language may be a done deal. I'm trying to confirm whether this has in fact happened.
In addition, the Council's resolution on the referendum language would have the voters approve the boundaries of the new state, as approved by the Statehood Commission on June 28, 2016, which are slightly different from those of the National Capital Service Area, which Congress created in the Home Rule Act. It is these boundaries that have been and are in the statehood bills before Congress, including HR. 317. Ultimately, this is something that will need to be negotiated with the Federal government and Congress in particular. Our Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, also needs to be consulted as she is the one who has authored the statehood bills introduced in Congress. In any case, this means that it may be premature for the voters to approve them in November.
Finally, the resolution says the citizens of D.C. "agree that the State of New Columbia shall guarantee an elected representative form of government." (emphasis added) The term of art in the Constitution (Article IV, Section 4) is "a Republican Form of Government." (emphasis added) That is what the United States shall guarantee to every state in this Union. The Council should follow the constitutional language. Section 1 of the enabling or admission acts (H.R. 317 for New Columbia and Public Law 85-807, the Alaska Statehood Act) contain the language: "The State Constitution shall always be republican in form and shall not be repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the principles of the Declaration of Independence." (emphasis added)