The D.C. Statehood constitutional convention approved a far-reaching provision yesterday guaranteeing all persons in the proposed new state a job or income sufficient to meet basic needs.
Rejecting arguments that the measure would draw unemployed workers from throughout the country and bankrupt the new state, convention delegates voted overwhelmingly to delete key language from the provision that would have required the state to provide employment and income only "within the state's ability" to do so.
"We don't have the resources to provide this," said Ward 2 delegate Kenneth Rothschild.
"It's impractical," said Wesley Long, another Ward 2 delegate. " . . . The unemployed can come from the other states and demand employment" to be provided by the government at taxpayer expense.
He said he feared that both city voters and Congress will reject the convention's proposed constitution because of the measure.
But the convention went on to approve the broadened language in a 22-to-6 vote, applauding at-large delegate Barbara Lett Simmons when she said, "I am not about to put a price tag on the quality of life in the new state."
The provision, approved on first reading as part of a bill of rights, now reads: "Every person shall have the right to employment or, if unable to work, to an income sufficient to meet basic human needs."
The convention, racing to meet a Saturday deadline to complete writing the constitution, met until 3 a.m. yesterday, then reconvened later in the day to finish out the 22-part bill of rights.
It also adopted a detailed antidiscrimination article and sections that would limit police surveillance of political activity and bar state intervention in private decisions on birth control and abortion.
The antidiscrimination article says in part, "Every person shall have a fundamental right to . . . be free from historic group discrimination, public or private, based on race, color, religion, creed, citizenship, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, poverty or parentage."
Some delegates protested that the phrase "historic group discrimination" appeared to leave present or future categories of people unprotected from possible discrimination, such as "males and whites and straights," as Ward 3 delegate Joel Garner put it.
But Ward 1 delegate Maurice Jackson argued that deletion of the "historic" reference would destroy the "complete essence" of the article by failing to give special recognition to long-term patterns of discrimination against "our lesser brothers."
Blacks "led the way for human rights for women and . . . for gays" and other minorities, said Ward 1 delegate Anita Shelton, who is also director of the city's Office of Human Rights.
In a "privacy" article guaranteeing the freedom to have abortions and use birth control, , delegates approved language that said the "right of the individual to decide whether to procreate or to bear a child is inviolable."
The delegates also approved a section asserting that the state cannot intervene in the "right to private, consensual, sexual behavior of adults" that is of a "noncommercial" nature.