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Washington Mayor Proposes State Constitution for District of Columbia
D.C. Council Headed for Conflict with Congress
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s new proposal of a state constitution for the District of Columbia is setting the D.C. Council up for more conflicts with Congress over who controls local laws.
Bowser’s draft constitution is a ramped-up version of her push for full statehood for the District of Columbia.
The mayor is calling for a constitutional convention in June 2016. She also wants the city’s residents to vote in November 2016 on whether to petition the next president and Congress to declare D.C. a state.
Her push for statehood prompted a threat from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House committee with oversight of the District. He said D.C. Council members should be prosecuted if they continue with their plan to spend local tax revenue without congressional approval.
Bowser’s proposed constitution would remove Congress’ final control over D.C. laws and how local tax revenue is spent. It also would prevent Congress from intervening to block D.C. Council laws that allow public funding of abortions for low-income residents and legalization of marijuana.
Bowser says statehood is justified by Congress’ inattentiveness to local opinions and issues, most recently the difficulty in getting funding to fix the Metro transit system.
Other provisions of the constitution would revamp the criminal justice system.
The current system mixes the authority of local police, federal judges and prisons from several states that supervise the punishment of criminal suspects.
The draft constitution would take away the authority of the president to appoint D.C. judges.
Instead, the mayor would be reconstituted as the governor, who would not only appoint judges but also oversee and fund a criminal justice system that includes hundreds of prosecutors and corrections personnel.
The 13 D.C. Council members would be reappointed as state representatives. In addition, the 51st state would get two federal representatives in Congress and a senator.
One reason Republicans in Congress vehemently oppose D.C. statehood is the way the balance of power is likely to shift toward Democrats if voters in such a heavily-Democratic jurisdiction can appoint federal lawmakers.
They also say statehood violates the rationale in the U.S. Constitution for a federal district.
Congress created the District of Columbia from small parts of Maryland and Virginia to avoid the risk the nation’s business could be affected by local authority. Giving a governor of New Columbia the kind of authority proposed in Bowser’s draft constitution would give D.C.’s 670,000 residents power far beyond the city’s small size, according to critics in Congress.