The D.C. statehood convention will begin two weeks of public hearings Monday on the constitution it is writing. Witnesses and convention delegates are expected to debate issues ranging from the size and shape of a legislature to voting age, utilities regulation and the city's relationship to the federal government.
A little more than a third of the way through their 90-day session, the 45 delegates are rushing to get proposals and position papers ready for the hearings. The constitution must be completely written by May 29. It probably will appear on the ballot in this fall's election. If approved by city voters, the constitution still must be accepted by both houses of Congress before statehood can be implemented.
The hearings will be divided into 10 subject areas including legislative, executive, judicial, economic development and suffrage. A convention committee will preside over each.
So far, the committees have adopted few provisions of the proposed constitution, but delegates have been discussing a sometimes conflicting array of concepts.
In addition to suggestions for a unicameral, or one-house, legislature, a three-tiered court system and a centralized executive branch under a governor, there have been proposals to lower the voting age to 16--and even 14--establish a two-house legislature with up to 175 members, create a network of neighborhood arbitration courts, abolish capital punishment and allow prisoners and mental patients to vote.
A central debate has developed around the size and composition of a legislature for the proposed state. Some delegates, such as Wesley Long of Ward 2, say they tend to favor a smaller, unicameral legislature with perhaps 25 to 45 members. "I can't see any fantastic advantages of bicameral legislature . . . unless we want to go to 300 or 150 members, and I can't see that," Long said.
Others argue that a small legislature is cheaper with fewer salaries to pay. Also, they say, it is easier to follow a small legislature's deliberations and fix responsibility for actions it takes.
On the other hand, some delegates, like Theresa Jones of Ward 8, say a small, professional legislature smacks of elitism and argue that the body should be larger to include a more representative sample of the city's population.
Members of a larger body would have closer contact with their communities, several delegates say, and would serve not only as lawmakers but also as ombudsmen to push for city services for their constituents.