Congressional Democrats tried a new amendment eliminating clauseIn December, congressional Democrats introduced a joint resolution that would add another amendment to the Constitution, effectively eliminating the punishment clause. It would read: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude may be imposed as a punishment for a crime.” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the federal proposal, issued a statement saying the 13th Amendment continues to operate as a means of profiting from involuntary labor. “To this day, many states and the federal government mandate that all able-bodied incarcerated people work,” the statement read. “Incarcerated people are not protected by workplace safety laws that help keep other Americans safe on the job. Even today, 155 years after slavery was supposedly abolished in the United States, private prison corporations profit from forced labor, as do companies that sell their goods – which are made by forced labor from un- or under-compensated people – to unsuspecting consumers.” State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) noted during the debate that many state constitutions contain similar language but that some, most recently Utah and Nebraska, have passed state-level amendments removing those provisions. “So I think that gives a sense to our colleagues about the importance of this across the country,” he said. “If states are looking at their own constitutions with the same language and taking action that’s happening potentially on the federal level, it’s probably a good thing to do.” Flowers’ resolution passed the House on a voice vote. It will next be sent to the Senate for consideration.
D.C. statehood resolutionAlso Wednesday, the House passed House Joint Resolution 16 urging Congress to pass legislation making Washington, D.C., the 51st state. “Washington, D.C., has over 700,000 residents, more than the states of Wyoming or Vermont, and comparable to the states of Alaska and North Dakota,” Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) said on the House floor. “However, these 700,000 Americans have no U.S. senators, no voting representation in the U.S. House, no ability to control their own budget. The city that is the seat of our great government, a 47-percent African American city, is an emblem of disenfranchisement.” Earlier this year, the U.S. House passed legislation authorizing statehood for the district, which would be renamed Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. But that legislation passed on a straight party-line vote, 216-208, with no Republicans supporting it. It is now sitting in the evenly-divided U.S. Senate where its chances of passage are considered negligible, primarily because it would allocate two U.S. Senate seats and one House seat to the heavily Democratic-leaning new state, tipping the balance of power in Congress that much toward the Democrats. Guzzardi’s resolution passed the Illinois House on a similar party-line vote, 71-42. It now moves to the state Senate. Both resolutions are symbolic in nature, merely expressing to federal officials the sentiment of the Illinois General Assembly. Those votes came on a day when the state House focused almost entirely on symbolic and honorary resolutions, including several that rename stretches of state highways in honor of fallen U.S. soldiers from Illinois.
Peter Hancock is the Statehouse reporter for Capitol News Illinois and held that position since January 2019. Hancock previously covered the state government in Kansas for much of two decades, including stints with the Lawrence Journal-World and Kansas Public Radio. He would also report for the Kansas Health Policy Authority and the Kansas Education Policy Report.