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Thirty-Eight in Congress Propose Statehood

Thirty-eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives proposed statehood legislation for Puerto Rico yesterday.

The bill responds to the islands’ political status plebiscite last November. In the plebiscite, 54% of the vote rejected continuation of the current territory status, often popularly — but misleading — called “commonwealth,” and more than 61% was for statehood among the possible alternatives.

Puerto Rico’s official representative to the Federal government, who has a seat in the House but a vote only in its committees, Pedro Pierluisi (D) is the principal author of the bill. But joining him in sponsoring it were a broad cross-section of the Democratic leaders of the House and six Republicans.

Among the Democratic leaders are: Steny Hoyer (MD), the Democratic Whip; George Miller (CA), the alter ego of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL), President Obama’s Chair of the Democratic National Committee; Joe Crowley (NY), the Vice-Chair of the Democratic Caucus; Ron Kind (WI), the Chair of the 50-Member New Democrat Coalition, the caucus of moderate Democrats; Raul Grijalva (AZ) and Keith Ellison (MN), the Co-Chairs of the 77-Member Progressive Caucus; Marcia Fudge (OH), Chair of the Black Caucus; and Jose Serrano (NY), the senior representative of a State of Puerto Rican origin.

Key Republicans include: Deputy Republican Whip Aaron Schock (IL); former Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees Chair Don Young (AK), who, with Miller, was the lead sponsor of a Puerto Rico status choice bill that passed the House in 1998; former Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL); former Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King (NY); former Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica (FL); and Mario Diaz-Balart (FL).

One-third of the sponsors are from Florida, one of the most pivotal States in national elections and a State where the vote of citizens of Puerto Rican origin can swing elections between the national political parties. Polling suggests that Puerto Ricans in Florida favor statehood over territory status or nationhood along with Puerto Ricans who have remained in the islands

The bill would require the president of the United States to submit legislation to enable Puerto Rico to become a State after a phase in of equal treatment  in Federal tax and program laws if Puerto Ricans ratify their desire for statehood in a referendum. It would also commit the Congress to pass such a bill.

Puerto Rico is treated as a State under most Federal laws but it is treated differently under major tax and social benefits laws. Puerto Rico’s economy and most Puerto Ricans lose more than is gained from the different treatment. The Federal treasury also loses revenue from multinational corporations and very wealthy individuals.

The bill follows legislation submitted to the Congress last month by the Obama Administration that would also provide for a vote in Puerto Rico to confirm last November’s self-determination decision by the territory. Under the U.S. Justice Department proposal, the Federal government would provide $2.5 million for a plebiscite on options proposed by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission found by the U.S. attorney general to not conflict with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.

The House bill is compatible with the Obama proposal because the White House-initiated plebiscite can be on any of Puerto Rico’s real status options — including just one, such as statehood.

The Obama proposal requires that Puerto Rico status plebiscite options not conflict with U.S. law and policy because the “commonwealth” party has proposed a new “commonwealth status” that is impossible for constitutional and other reasons. Among other problems, it would have the Federal government permanently cede to Puerto Rico the powers to determine the application of Federal laws and court jurisdiction to the islands and to enter into international agreements that require a jurisdiction to be a sovereign nation.

It also calls for the new “commonwealth” status to not be a territory status — but President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status has said that is impossible under the U.S. Constitution.

The judgments of the Obama Administration on these issues are consistent with those of past administrations of both national parties and of congressional committees and leaders of both parties.

The Federal proposals for votes to confirm the self-determination aspirations of Puerto Ricans are being made because the “commonwealth” party governor and legislative majority elected to office at the time of the plebiscite dispute the plebiscite and its results. President Obama’s spokesman recognized the choice of statehood as the alternative to temporary territory status and today’s House bill recalls the plebiscite results in detail.  But White House staff and U.S. House members feel that the opposition of Puerto Rico’s new governor and legislature majority would block ultimate congressional action based on the results.

The Obama and U.S. House legislative proposals fly in the face of efforts of the new governor and legislative majority to portray the results of the plebiscite as different from the official results, which were determined by the Puerto Rico Elections Commission with the support of its “commonwealth party representative. The governor and his legislature allies contend that the status option they urged votes for, the current territory status, was rejected by 51.7% instead of 54%, and that statehood won 44.4% of the vote instead of 61.2%.

They argue that Commission should have included ‘votes’ not cast in the percentage and number results, contrary to the law for the plebiscite, Puerto Rico election law, and general election law.

Their closest allies in the House, Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Nydia Velazquez, spoke for the “commonwealth” party.  Gutierrez said that the plebiscite did not produce a mandate for changing Puerto Rico’s status.  Velazquez curiously said that its referendum would be tilted towards statehood even though voters could cast ballots against statehood as well as for it.

0 thoughts on “Thirty-Eight in Congress Propose Statehood”

  1. Statehooders fixed a plebiscite without any Commonwealth alternative for the people to choose. Thus, the new governor asked to leave in blank that part of the process. Even with everything against them, Commonwealthers won. If Congress members bother to investigate, they’ll find the truth. Thanks.

  2. Historic Puerto Rico Statehood Ratification Act Introduced
    Puerto Rico’s (PR) only elective representative in Congress RC Pedro Pierluisi (with voice but no vote for 3.7 million US Citizens that should have six US Representatives and two US Senators), introduced the historic “Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act” that calls for eligible voters to ratify the results of last November’s local PR Plebiscite (where all had the duty to vote: over 61+% voted for statehood; 6% for Independence; the balance for other options.)

    For over 115 years of Puerto Rico has been a federally un-democratic US Territory. The 2d Class US Citizens (including American Veterans) in Puerto Rico can’t vote in Federal elections nor have just representation in the Congress that determines their destiny. (Under article 4 of our US Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the US”).

    Those born in Puerto Rico maintain their US Citizenship under Federal Laws, not per the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution– which means an un-permanent US Citizenship, no matter where they reside. Also, the US Constitution is not equally applied in Puerto Rico.

    The complex US Territory of Puerto Rico’s equal rights quandary, that affects millions, is not only about a “Group” Vote on the status question, but, more important, it’s about protecting individual civil rights in our representative democracy-where the US Citizen should be the epicenter of our Republic, not the US Government’s un-democratic territorial control of the land & People.

    Under our US Constitution there are only two mayor forms of government: one for States, the other for Territories. The equal and honorable non-territorial options are: Statehood or Independence.

    Politicians misinform; want to fool People with biased defined options that portray Puerto Rico as a “Commonwealth” or ELA (Free Associated State), which are terms not found in the US Constitution; are political (mean nothing) names for the local government under the will of Congress.

    Former Chief Judge Torruella (US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals) has critiqued the judicial system; compares the “Insular Cases” (1901-1922) that defined the status of Puerto Rico, to Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal doctrine to justify racial segregation). He said, “…the doctrines espoused by the “Insular Cases” seriously curtail the rights of several million citizens… of the US.”; “…the disparity of rights that result from this relationship has… for too long been relegated to the back burners of American constitutional thought and dialogue…”

    US District Judge GELPÍ has said, “The unequal and discriminatory fiscal treatment given to Puerto Rico…is conspicuous and egregious. More so, it is not an isolated incident of the federal government disparately treating Puerto Rico and the nearly four million United States citizens…”

    This iconic patriotic American Hispanic individual civil rights issue strikes at the Soul of our Democracy-“consent of the governed”; Liberty! The Federal Government must be fair; do right: pass this bill. If Voters’ freely ratify Statehood- Puerto Rico should be admitted as the 51st State of the Union.
    (Dennis O. Freytes, American Veteran; Former Professor University of Puerto Rico/Department Director; Trustee Valencia College; Community Servant)

  3. Very encouraging, and it is about time.
    Many times I have had to dispel and explain to far too many people whom believe that “Puertoricans do not pay any Federal taxes”. WHO started this un truth? What can be done about it? I am sick and tired of trying to correct this misinformation. Can you help? Wikipidia has a good article about this subject matter. Thanks!

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