D.C. congressional Del. Walter E. Fauntroy has told the D.C. constitutional convention that if it wants support in Congress for statehood, it should write an orthodox constitution with provisions that "look as much like systems members are accustomed to as possible."
"Congressional attitudes should be given much attention and careful consideration," he told the local government committee of the convention at the District Building last week . "Perhaps most important, the elusive concept of 'federal interest' must be taken into consideration."
Statehood convention delegates, now about halfway through their 90-day session, are fashioning a number of proposed constitutional articles that are ordinary or routine--a two-tiered court system, a 24-member unicameral legislature, a uniform taxing system.
Others, though, are more unusual: legalized prostitution, public employes' right to strike and a ban on all police wiretaps.
The committee that heard Fauntroy's cautionary words has drafted tentative language that carves out a small "federal enclave" in the District to remain under the jurisdiction of the federal government. It calls for continued payments in lieu of tax revenues on federal property within the territory of the new state--a holdover of the current annual federal payment to the city.
The committee's tentative plan also would create a tier of local government beneath the "state" level, with 120 to 128 elected neighborhood officials--to be paid whatever the state legislature deems appropriate--with advisory powers similar to those of the present Advisory Neighorhood Commissions.
Congressional leaders have given no official indication of how they feel about the city's current bid for statehood, but local Republicans say GOP members of Congress are wary of granting statehood to this heavily Democratic city and thus diluting their strength on Capitol Hill
In hour-long testimony, Fauntroy praised the convention's "historic deliberations," wished the 45 delegates well and gave them helpful hints on approaching skeptical members of Congress, a switch from his somewhat cooler stance in the past.
He has been privately critical of the statehood movement and is pushing the Voting Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution--which he shepherded through Congress but has been unable to get through many state legislatures--as a more realistic approach to greater home rule for the city.
At Tuesday's hearing before the local government committee, Fauntroy said a key to greater congressional support is having the new state constitution establish smooth relations with the federal government, including the handling of police, sanitation and other services and the protection of foreign embassies.
"If Congress can be made to feel comfortable and secure with this article," Fauntroy said, "much progress will have been made."
The committee, headed by Ward 1 delegate Marie Nahikian, has drafted tentative language suggesting that the new state embrace what is now the District of Columbia except for a federal enclave including the Capitol, congressional office buildings, Supreme Court, Library of Congress, the Mall, the White House, the Potomac River and its bridges.
The proposal would empower the new state's "governor" to negotiate with the federal government to provide police, fire, sanitation and other services for federal properties both in the new state and in the federal enclave.
At the local government level, the committee suggests creation of eight wards or "counties" whose boundaries would coincide with those of the state legislative districts.
Each ward would be divided into three or four "neighborhood districts," which in turn would be subdivided into four or five "neighborhood council districts," providing a total of 15 or 16 elected officials for each ward and 120 to 128 citywide.
Like the present ANCs, their function would be largely advisory, but unlike ANCs, members would be salaried and could negotiate with the state government "with respect to policies and the delivery of services affecting their wards."
These neighborhood officials, acting as ward-level councils, would also provide advice--which the state legislature would have to consider but need not accept--in the areas of zoning, planning, streets, recreation, social service programs, health, safety and sanitation.