Four senators introduced a bill in the lame-duck Congress Wednesday to grant Washington, D.C., statehood under the name "New Columbia."
The sponsors are Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who is leaving office in a few weeks, and Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
According to a press release from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which Lieberman chairs, the proposed state of New Columbia would not encompass the entirely of the current District of Columbia. Some federal buildings, including the Capitol and others along the National Mall, would remain under Congress’ control.
The New Columbia Admissions Act, S. 3696, is a counterpart to a House bill introduced in January 2011 by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's non-voting delegate. It is the first D.C. statehood bill to be introduced in the Senate since 1993.
Lieberman has long advocated D.C. statehood and, according to Buzzfeed, has called New Columbia the “unfinished business” of his entire career.
“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. “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.”
Durbin, the deputy majority leader and a political mentor of the president, is particularly passionate about the project, and offered a short history of the district’s disenfranchisement.
“It might surprise some students of American history to know that it wasn’t until the 1964 election that residents of the District of Columbia were finally able to cast a ballot for president and vice president of the United States,” said Durbin. “Unfortunately, the disenfranchisement of these citizens is not yet a relic of history. More than a half century later, Washingtonians are still denied full voting representation in Congress. I first voted in favor of this legislation nearly two decades ago, and I will continue to stand with the people of the district until they are granted the voting rights that they deserve.”
What are the prospects of Washington, D.C., actually becoming a state? In order for the District of Columbia to become the 51st state, the measure must be approved by both houses of the United States Congress. According to the Enabling Act of 1802, following that, the residents of a territory must devise a constitution. After that, a new territory may be admitted to the Union.
It could be 52 states, in fact. The question of statehood for Puerto Rico is back on the agenda after the island's residents voted for the status change in a referendum in November.