Kislak: Support Washington, D.C.’s statehood quest


STATE HOUSE – The United States is the only democratic nation that denies the right of self–government, including participation in its national legislature, to the residents of its capital.

As a similarly small but mighty jurisdiction, Rhode Island should stand up the rights of its fellow Americans, says Rep. Rebecca Kislak.  

Representative Kislak (D-Dist. 4, Providence) has introduced a resolution voicing Rhode Island’s support statehood for Washington, D.C. The resolution (2023-H 5515) is scheduled for a hearing today at 2 p.m. before the House Judiciary Committee.  

“The people of Washington, D.C., are Americans just like we are here in Rhode Island. Yet they are denied the right to representation in Congress, do not have a say in national policy, and can have their local democratically enacted laws overturned by the same Congress in which they have no say,” said Representative Kislak. “Many Rhode Islanders have connections of some sort to Washington, whether they’ve gone to school there or know someone who lives there. The people of our nation’s capital are taxpayers and citizens just like those of us in Rhode Island, and they deserve equal representation.” 

Washington, D.C.’s 712,000 residents vote in federal and local elections, pay federal and local taxes and serve in the military, but they are not granted any U.S. senators and are allowed a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. Constitution’s district clause requires that Congress review all local D.C. legislation before it can be enacted, and Congress is entitled to change or overturn it. Congress has not outright overturned any legislation from D.C. in three decades, but is currently poised to overturn a criminal justice reform law 16 years in the making. It has used its power to prohibit the district from offsetting the costs of abortions for low-income residents as well as denying its plan to tax, regulate and commercialize marijuana sales.

“Whether we agree with every line in a law enacted by a democratically elected body like the D.C. city council or not, the right to self-governance is fundamental. While the Mayor herself is opposed to some provisions of the law, she has asked Congress to recognize the district’s right to self-governance,” said Representative Kislak.  

In a 2016 referendum, 86 percent of voters of Washington., D.C. supported statehood. Achieving statehood requires that Congress pass and the president sign into law admitting Washington, D.C. into the union. Legislation to grant the district statehood has been introduced in the House by Washington’s Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. It passed the House in 2020 and 2021 but has never cleared the Senate. 

“The district has been asking for statehood and autonomy since before I was in law school there 25 years ago, when its citizens adopted license plates bearing the phrase ‘taxation without representation’ to spread awareness of its plight. Vermont and Wyoming have fewer residents than the district, and also permitted to pass their own laws. Rhode Island’s population, at about 1 million, isn’t much bigger. District residents deserve the same rights as us,” said Representative Kislak.