Alaska may always be the known as “The Last Frontier” but if Senator Joe Lieberman’s newest bill gets passed, it will no longer be the last state. On December 19th, Senator Lieberman introduced a bill to give residents of the District of Columbia, better known as Washington D.C., a chance to vote for statehood.
“It is long past time to give those American citizens who have chosen the District of Columbia as their home the voice they deserve in our democracy,” Lieberman said in a statement. “The United States is the only democracy in the world that denies voting representation to the people who live in its capital city. As I retire from the Senate after having had the great privilege of serving here for 24 years, securing full voting rights for the 600,000 disenfranchised people who live in the District is unfinished business, not just for me, but for the United States of America.”
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) joined the retiring Lieberman in introducing the bill that would allow the D.C. voters to “endorse” statehood. It is the first D.C. autonomy bill introduced in the Senate since 1991 and the first bill for D.C. statehood since 1993.
Since its foundation in 1790, residents of Washington D.C. have found themselves in an unusual limbo. The 68 square mile district isn’t part of a state, so they have no voting representative in the House of Representatives or the Senate. However, unlike the residents of U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam who also don’t have congressional representation, residents of Washington D.C. are subject to all federal taxes. In an attempt to bring awareness to their situation, the license plates in the District of Columbia have the motto “Taxation without Representation” on them.
The introduced bill would create a state called “New Columbia”. The proposed state wouldn’t include the areas where federal buildings and monuments are located or the National Mall, these would still be part of an area that will still be called the “District of Columbia.”
With only two weeks remaining in the 112th Congress, much of which will be spent dealing with the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, it is unlikely that Senator Lieberman will get a chance to vote for his bill. However, when asked by the Washington Post, a spokesperson for Senator Durbin indicated the Senate majority whip would reintroduce the bill next year.
“Senator Durbin has supported statehood for Washington, DC for over 20 years,” she said, according to a quote from the spokeswoman on a Washington Post blog. “He will support this bill’s introduction next Congress.”
Some polls have indicated that a majority of Americans believe that D.C. residents should have a vote in Congress. Opponents argue that statehood was not the Founding Fathers’ intent for the area and that it would unfairly give Senate representation to a single city.
Washington D.C. isn’t alone in the talk of future states. Earlier in the month, the White House called on Congress to respond to the recent vote in Puerto Rico, where more than 800,000 Puerto Rico voters said they wanted the island to move commonwealth to state in a referendum on their November ballots.
“Congress should now study the results closely, and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward that lays out the means by which Puerto Ricans themselves can determine their own status,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on December 5th.
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