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Freedom Or ‘Fool’s Errand’? D.C. To Vote On Statehood Referendum

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Long-frustrated backers of statehood for the District of Columbia are pinning their hopes on a first-ever referendum on Tuesday in a long-shot bid to become the 51st U.S. state.

Invoking the colonial-era demand of “no taxation without representation,” supporters say becoming a state would end Washingtonians’ status as second-class citizens because they lack representation in Congress.

But opponents dismiss the referendum as a “fool’s errand” destined to fail because of partisan political hurdles and the need to amend the U.S. Constitution, a procedure accomplished only 17 times since 1789.

The District of Columbia was carved out to serve as the nation’s capital, but it is not a state. Its 672,000 residents have no voting representative in the Senate or House of Representatives although they pay federal taxes, though they do have a delegate in the House.

A “yes” vote could help pressure the new Congress and president – either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump – to admit the District of Columbia as a new state, though even advocates admit that is unlikely anytime soon.

A “yes” vote would simply be an expression of public support for statehood, a non-binding measure without any legal force.

“Statehood’s the only way that we can have the same rights and responsibilities as all the other citizens of the United States,” District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

The overwhelmingly Democratic capital city was fed up with Republican lawmakers espousing the rights of states and cities to self-governance and then interfering with local issues such as abortion and marijuana legalization, Mendelson said.

“That’s so antithetical to democratic principles, but that doesn’t seem to bother some of these folks,” he said.

The referendum seeks to upend the Constitution’s provision giving Congress legislative control over the District of Columbia.

Voters will cast a single “yes” or “no” vote on the referendum’s four parts: admission as a state, its boundaries, approval of a constitution, and guarantees of a representative form of government.

The new state would embrace the current 68-square-mile (176-square-km) district except for a core of federal property around the White House, Capitol and monument-rich National Mall.

The District Council approved the referendum unanimously, and a Washington Post poll in November 2015 showed 67 percent of residents backed statehood. The Democratic Party’s national platform also supports the idea.

“If you’re not part of a state, large parts of the constitution don’t apply to you,” said statehood advocate Ann Loikow.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and other statehood backers took the vote’s design from the successful bid in the 1790s by Tennessee, then a federal territory, to become a state through a referendum and petition to Congress.

Supporters and skeptics say that even if the referendum passes it would face a dead end in Congress, where Republicans would oppose statehood since it would add Democratic senators and a representative to Congress.

Besides the political obstacles, Roger Pilon, a constitutional scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, called the statehood quest a “fool’s errand” because of constitutional obstacles.

For the District to become a state, Congress would have to propose an amendment to the Constitution, which would then have to win a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House.

Even if an amendment could win approval in both houses of Congress, it would face another big hurdle: approval by the legislatures of at least three-fourths of the 50 states.

Washingtonians have tried to achieve statehood before, but never by an up-or-down referendum. Congress ignored a statehood petition that included a constitution voters ratified in the 1980s.

The House of Representatives rejected a statehood bill in 1993, and it failed to reach a Senate vote. A constitutional amendment for voting rights in Congress fizzled in the 1980s.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: Work begins on building the inaugural parade stands in front of the White House in Washington, U.S. November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Extremism On Second Amendment Violates Common Sense

Who could possibly be against keeping guns out of the hands of toddlers?

Plenty of people, it would seem, if you were able to follow Hillary Clinton’s argument in Wednesday’s presidential debate about a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the Second Amendment, and the vituperative reaction to it.

It’s a bit of a rabbit hole that Clinton threw herself into, but that’s pretty typical of the mind-numbing ideological stalemate that has frozen out common sense in the gun control debate. So let me explain.

Clinton was challenged about her opposition to the famous District of Columbia v. Heller decision of 2008 that struck down a gun control law passed in Washington, D.C. in 1975. For Second Amendment stalwarts, the Heller majority opinion, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, is darn close to holy scripture. The 5-4 decision was a broad affirmation of an individual’s right to private gun ownership for self-defense. It is huge.

Clinton said that she supported the individual’s right to own guns but disagreed with the ruling in that it didn’t support “reasonable restrictions.”

“What the District of Columbia was trying to do was to protect toddlers from guns,” Clinton said.

This sent gun rights people howling. They savaged Clinton for misrepresenting the crux of the D.C. law and the principles on which the decision turned. Nowhere in the law or the decision are children mentioned, they objected.

But that’s a little beside the point. A federal petition filed in support of the original law did argue for its use in keeping children safe, Politifact reported soon after the debate.

“The smaller the weapon, the more likely a child can use it, and children as young as three years old are strong enough to fire today’s handguns,” the petition stated.

Among other restrictions, the law had called for licensed guns in the home to be unloaded and disassembled or kept with a trigger lock, for safety concerns. Granted, the safe handling of firearms wasn’t the main impetus of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975. Preventing criminal gun violence — murders and other crimes — was the primary concern. But, knowing what we now do about gun accidents involving children, it is an entirely valid standpoint from which to criticize Heller.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s argument was judged half true by Politifact. A sane point of view — that the Scalia majority on the court had overreached by quashing any sensible regulation of firearms — was lost.

Keeping handguns away from small children shouldn’t be controversial. There is scarcely a police reporter or emergency room doctor in America who hasn’t faced the horror of a child shooting himself, a sibling, a friend or a parent.

The prevalence of these incidents is astounding, even though we don’t have anything near adequate data on this type of tragedy. Reporting by the Washington Post has found about one shooting by a young child a week in America. This is likely an under count, as many instances do not make the news unless it’s a parent or a sibling who dies. The Centers for Disease Control find that at least six children are injured in an unintentional shooting every day.

There really is no argument that such shootings shouldn’t be prevented. Indeed, they’re highly preventable — so much so that it’s a misnomer to call most of them “accidental.” Malign neglect is more often a better description.

It so happens that my state, Missouri, ranked the highest for toddler shootings last year in one study. Missouri, along with 23 other states, does not have a child endangerment law that includes firearms and holds adults criminally responsible for unintentional shootings of children.

A new national initiative announced in mid-October seeks change. The Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance is coordinating physicians, law enforcement, prosecutors, lawmakers and other advocates to look at what can be done nationally through policy work, legislation and education around gun safety.

It has promoted the hashtag #NotAnAccident and propagated this disturbing tidbit: You are more likely to be shot by a U.S. toddler than by a terrorist. The ongoing psychological trauma of these shootings shouldn’t be discounted. What an awful burden it must be for someone to carry through life knowing that, as a young child, he or she took a life or caused serious injury.

Keeping a loaded gun unsecured and within easy reach of a toddler ought to be considered a criminal act of negligence. A portion of the law that was struck down in Heller understood this. It’s time to admit that upholding a person’s right to own a gun doesn’t need to conflict with efforts to keep young children’s tiny hands away from pulling triggers.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.

(c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: Handguns are seen for sale in a display case at Metro Shooting Supplies in Bridgeton, Missouri, November 13, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

District Of Columbia Approves $15/Hour Minimum Wage

Update: This article has been updated to reflect that the D.C. city council approved the $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal. 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The District of Columbia’s city council approved a $15-an-hour minimum wage on Tuesday, a rate adopted by a growing number of U.S. cities and states seeking to battle income inequality.

The council voted unanimously to pass the measure boosting the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2020, with subsequent hikes tied to inflation. A final vote will come later this month, and Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has backed the bill.

Once approved, the U.S. capital will join California and New York in making $15 the hourly minimum. At least eight cities, including Seattle, have also approved the $15 base.

“Raising the minimum wage will help address the issues of residents being pushed out of the District due to rising costs of living and income inequality,” Council member Vincent Orange, a sponsor of the bill, said in the hearing.

He and other supporters say Washington’s robust economy and growing population mean it can support a higher minimum wage.

The District of Columbia’s base wage is $10.50, and will go up by $1 on July 1 under existing law. The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour.

The $15 minimum is estimated to raise wages for 114,000 workers, or about 14 percent of the District of Columbia’s workforce, according to an analysis for the council by the non-profit Economic Policy Institute.

The higher pay proposal was supported by unions but was opposed by the District’s Chamber of Commerce. It said the District should not raise wages until neighboring suburbs do.

The District of Columbia’s booming restaurant industry also opposed it. Restaurant owners and the local restaurant association said that higher costs would lead to layoffs.

Some lawmakers said the measure did not go far enough to address a widening income gap and 18 percent poverty rate. Council member David Grosso added an amendment requiring the government to study a minimum income system to help the poorest residents.

“Raising the minimum wage is a good thing, but is $15 enough? Or should the number be $35, or $50 an hour?” he asked.

Under the measure, the minimum for workers who get tips, like waiters and bartenders, would also be $15 an hour by 2020. Following talks with unions, restaurateurs and community activists, employers would have to make up the difference between a base for tipped workers that will be $5 an hour in 2020, up from the current $2.77, Orange said.

 

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Photo: A supporter holds a sign aloft while listening to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally to celebrate the state of New York passing into law a $15 minimum wage in New York April 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Trump Goes On Charm Offensive With Republicans But Differences Remain

Donald Trump went on a charm offensive on Thursday to try to win the party establishment’s support for his insurgent candidacy, but top Republican Paul Ryan stopped short of endorsing him.

Trump was on his best behavior on a day of meetings with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He listened patiently as they raised concerns about his tone and the need to try to appeal to Hispanic voters.

He avoided strident language like the frequent criticism he has lobbed from the campaign trail, that many lawmakers are awestruck by the corridors of power and forget why they were sent to Washington.

“The whole discussion was very solid, reasonable and a warm and winning discussion,” said U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. “I think you’re going to find he’s going to be better and better all the time.”

Trump’s day in Washington was aimed at laying to rest some of the concerns that persist among Republicans about his incendiary tone and some policy proposals that violate party doctrine.

The New York billionaire, who needs the party behind him in order to have a chance at winning the Nov. 8 election, has vowed to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, deport 11 million illegal immigrants, temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country and impose trade protectionist policies.

Trump held an hour-long session with Ryan, who as speaker of the House of Representatives is the top U.S. elected Republican and can hold sway with many establishment Republicans leery of Trump.

“This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification,” Ryan and Trump said in a joint statement.

The usually loquacious Trump was restrained, issuing a tweet in which he said: “Things working out really well!” before flying home to New York.

Party leaders are normally eager to rally around a presidential nominee to combine forces for the battle leading up to the general election. But Ryan has withheld his endorsement of Trump out of concern over the businessman’s conservative credentials.

In remarks to reporters after the meeting, the congressman said he was encouraged by the session but that more work will be needed.

“There’s no secret that Donald Trump and I have had our differences. We talked about those differences today,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference. “I do believe we are planting the seeds in getting ourselves unified.”

Ryan, who may harbor aspirations of running for president in 2020 or later, noted that he represents a wing of the conservatives and that it is positive that Trump is bringing new voters into the party.

 

TONE IT DOWN

Despite his problems in winning over senior Republicans, Trump received a boost on Wednesday when a Reuters/Ipsos national poll showed him pulling even with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The online survey found 41 percent of likely voters supporting Clinton and 40 percent backing Trump.

Later on Thursday, Trump went into a meeting with Senate Republican leaders, where he posed for photos with them and heard concerns about his campaign rhetoric but appeared to make some progress in tempering concerns about him.

“Everyone here wants you to win,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told him at the Senate session, a source said.

U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia urged Trump to be careful in his tone. U.S. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a former U.S. Trade Representative, urged caution on his rhetoric against trade deals.

“The issue of tone did come up,” said U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who said he gave some advice to Trump on “the importance of the Hispanic vote and the whole idea of distinguishing between illegal immigration and legal immigration.”

In a meeting at a Washington law firm, Trump sat down with James Baker, who served as secretary of state for Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Earlier in the day, Baker had testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Under questioning from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a former Republican presidential candidate, Baker said the world “would be far less stable” without a strong NATO, a slap at Trump’s idea of reconfiguring the Western alliance and getting European nations to foot more of the bill.

“Secretary Baker had a meeting with Donald Trump that was requested by his campaign,” a Baker spokesman said.

Even U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina softened a bit. Graham dropped out of the presidential race earlier this year and had said the choice between Trump and rival Ted Cruz was like trying to decide between being “shot or poisoned.”

He said he had a “cordial, pleasant conversation” on the phone with Trump on Wednesday.

“I know Mr. Trump is reaching out to many people, throughout the party and the country, to solicit their advice and opinions. I believe this is a wise move on his part,” said Graham.

 

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Emily Stephenson, Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Patrica Zengerle, David Morgan; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at the Republican National Committee for a meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque