Brief Agenda Yields Long Meeting, Approved Constitution, New State Name

You can’t judge a meeting by the page length of its agenda. Nor can you judge it by the scope of the advocacy presence in the Chamber.

The most recent Committee of the Whole meeting, and the subsequent 34th Legislative Meeting, had some of the shortest agendas in recent history. Those anticipating that the short agendas would translate into brief meetings were only half correct. While the Legislative Meeting’s duration mirrored the brevity of its agenda, the earlier Committee of the Whole meeting grew comparatively lengthy. This was due to a single, but momentous, agenda item: the Constitution of our future state.

Unconventional Constitution

Earlier this year, the Council had committed to vote out a draft of our new state Constitution in time for early voting, so that those voting on the statehood initiative could be fully informed. The New Columbia Statehood Commission had approved a draft Constitution earlier this year after a series of public meetings, the Council held hearings on the document, and the Committee of the Whole’s updated draft of the document was brought up for a vote at this most recent meeting.

While the Constitution advanced largely as proposed, the following changes were among those made either in the Committee of the Whole draft or via amendments from the dais:

  • The name of our future state was changed from “New Columbia” to “Washington, D.C.” (with the “D.C.” signifying “Douglass Commonwealth,” in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass)
  • What had been called the “House of Delegates” was redubbed the “Legislative Assembly”
  • The purview of a mandatory Constitutional Convention occurring two years after statehood, which initially had been limited, would instead extend to anything in the Constitution
  • The process by which any proposed changes emerging from the Constitutional Convention would be enacted was modified to a simple referendum, without any role for the Legislative Assembly.  Any subsequent amendments, however, would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislative Assembly, followed by a public referendum.

A number of other debates centered around the question of what level of detail was Constitution-worthy. In some cases, provisions were left in the Constitution such as legislative review of contracts, where in others, they were left to be addressed by future legislation.

“Death with Dignity” Measure is Agendized

In what can only be seen as a miscommunication or misunderstanding by advocates, the Chamber was packed to the gills with both supporters and opponents of the “Death with Dignity” bill. Advocates on both sides of the issue had clearly encouraged their supporters to attend, and remain throughout, the lengthy meeting. However, the measure was only on the agenda for a simple and discrete procedural reason. In light of the bill’s earlier approval by the Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services, the Committee of the Whole’s sole responsibility was to determine its legal sufficiency, that it adhered to budget rules, and its record was complete, and agendize it for action by the full Council at its November 1 Legislative Meeting. The Council will debate the merits of the measure twice (as it does with virtually all legislation), however the procedural vote taken at this most recent meeting was not one of those opportunities (to the likely disappointment of the patient supporters in attendance).

Other Items

In other action at the most recent meetings:

  • A ceremonial resolution was presented in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
  • A measure was introduced to assess if/how the District government can compensate Business Improvement Districts for future work on sidewalk snow removal
  • A measure was introduced regarding potential future electronic signage outside Nationals Park, similar to what currently exists outside Verizon Center

For a full list of votes taken at the meetings, click here.