Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) has introduced a bill in the House, HR 2070, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate: S. 865. Both bills are titled, “To recognize the right of the People of Puerto Rico to call a status convention through which the people would exercise their natural right to self-determination, and to establish a mechanism for congressional consideration of such decision, and for other purposes.” The short title for each is The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021.
The bill reviews the history of Puerto Rico and the United States, and calls for a status convention for the “purpose of proposing self-determination options to the people of Puerto Rico.” The status convention would bring together elected delegates who would come up with a set of status options other than the current territorial status of Puerto Rico.
This “semi-permanent body” would be in existence until the United States ratifies the option selected by the people of Puerto Rico. The bill foresees that this could take years (by the inclusion of annual reports), but the delegates would not face reelection.
There will also be a Bilateral Congressional Negotiating Commission. Four members of this commission must primarily represent the 10 states with the largest numbers of residents of Puerto Rican heritage, giving the Puerto Rican diaspora more clout than Puerto Rico’s single Resident Commissioner on the commission.
Once the convention comes up with a list of possible status options, the voters of Puerto Rico will choose among them in a ranked-choice vote.
Not a new idea
The idea of a status convention has been proposed and rejected by Puerto Rico’s leaders many times. The bill does not require that the options presented on the ballot must be possible under the U.S. Constitution or that Congress pre-approve those options.
If Congress does not ratify the voters’ preferred option, the delegates and the Negotiating Commission have the option of trying again with the next Congress.
This is essentially the process that played out many times over the years after Puerto Ricans voted for an impossible “Commonwealth” status for Puerto Rico.
The current governor and resident commissioner of Puerto Rico both oppose the status convention. Under the terms of the bill, it is possible for the Puerto Rico legislature to call the convention without the approval of the Governor, essentially bringing Puerto Rico back to its pre-1952 governing arrangement in which the U.S. Congress controlled local affairs.
Some other concerns about the bill include the fact that it seeks to change numerous federal laws without input from the House and Senate Committees of relevant jurisdiction.
The Commission is also invited to make recommendations about the language, culture, taxes, educational system, and judicial system of Puerto Rico.
The bill calls for ranked voting: a system under which people can vote for multiple options. Under this plan, the chosen permanent political status could be one which was chosen by a minority of voters. While an academic analysis has shown that statehood would probably win in a ranked-voting scenario, as it did in an ordinary vote, this system is not widely used in the United States.
Cosponsors and Committees
HR 2070 has the following 73 cosponsors, all Democrats:
- Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria [D-NY-14]*
- Rep. Waters, Maxine [D-CA-43]*
- Rep. Scott, Robert C. “Bobby” [D-VA-3]*
- Rep. Maloney, Carolyn B. [D-NY-12]*
- Rep. Scott, David [D-GA-13]*
- Rep. McGovern, James P. [D-MA-2]*
- Rep. Takano, Mark [D-CA-41]*
- Rep. Nadler, Jerrold [D-NY-10]*
- Rep. Neal, Richard E. [D-MA-1]*
- Rep. Meeks, Gregory W. [D-NY-5]*
- Rep. Schiff, Adam B. [D-CA-28]*
- Rep. Ruiz, Raul [D-CA-36]*
- Rep. Suozzi, Thomas R. [D-NY-3]*
- Rep. Espaillat, Adriano [D-NY-13]*
- Rep. Green, Al [D-TX-9]*
- Rep. Pressley, Ayanna [D-MA-7]*
- Rep. Thompson, Bennie G. [D-MS-2]*
- Rep. Jayapal, Pramila [D-WA-7]*
- Rep. Clarke, Yvette D. [D-NY-9]*
- Rep. Meng, Grace [D-NY-6]*
- Rep. Sires, Albio [D-NJ-8]*
- Rep. Adams, Alma S. [D-NC-12]*
- Rep. Eshoo, Anna G. [D-CA-18]*
- Rep. Levin, Andy [D-MI-9]*
- Rep. Brown, Anthony G. [D-MD-4]*
- Rep. Lee, Barbara [D-CA-13]*
- Rep. McCollum, Betty [D-MN-4]*
- Rep. Butterfield, G. K. [D-NC-1]*
- Rep. Garcia, Jesus G. “Chuy” [D-IL-4]*
- Rep. Bush, Cori [D-MO-1]*
- Rep. Davis, Danny K. [D-IL-7]*
- Rep. Matsui, Doris O. [D-CA-6]*
- Rep. Evans, Dwight [D-PA-3]*
- Rep. Connolly, Gerald E. [D-VA-11]*
- Rep. Omar, Ilhan [D-MN-5]*
- Rep. Hayes, Jahana [D-CT-5]*
- Rep. Bowman, Jamaal [D-NY-16]*
- Rep. Huffman, Jared [D-CA-2]*
- Rep. Bass, Karen [D-CA-37]*
- Rep. Mfume, Kweisi [D-MD-7]*
- Rep. Blunt Rochester, Lisa [D-DE-At Large]*
- Rep. Doggett, Lloyd [D-TX-35]*
- Rep. Veasey, Marc A. [D-TX-33]*
- Rep. Scanlon, Mary Gay [D-PA-5]*
- Rep. Jones, Mondaire [D-NY-17]*
- Rep. Torres, Norma J. [D-CA-35]*
- Rep. Welch, Peter [D-VT-At Large]*
- Rep. Tlaib, Rashida [D-MI-13]*
- Rep. Khanna, Ro [D-CA-17]*
- Rep. Kelly, Robin L. [D-IL-2]*
- Del. San Nicolas, Michael F. Q. [D-GU-At Large]*
- Rep. Maloney, Sean Patrick [D-NY-18]*
- Rep. Jackson Lee, Sheila [D-TX-18]*
- Rep. Wild, Susan [D-PA-7]*
- Rep. Garcia, Sylvia R. [D-TX-29]*
- Rep. Sewell, Terri A. [D-AL-7]*
- Rep. Escobar, Veronica [D-TX-16]*
- Rep. Vargas, Juan [D-CA-51]*
- Rep. Thompson, Mike [D-CA-5]*
- Rep. Speier, Jackie [D-CA-14]*
- Rep. Schakowsky, Janice D. [D-IL-9]*
- Rep. Carson, Andre [D-IN-7]*
- Rep. Quigley, Mike [D-IL-5]*
- Rep. Leger Fernandez, Teresa [D-NM-3]*
- Rep. Johnson, Henry C. “Hank,” Jr. [D-GA-4]*
- Rep. Kaptur, Marcy [D-OH-9]*
- Rep. Roybal-Allard, Lucille [D-CA-40]*
- Rep. Titus, Dina [D-NV-1]*
- Rep. Correa, J. Luis [D-CA-46]*
- Rep. Higgins, Brian [D-NY-26]*
- Rep. Rush, Bobby L. [D-IL-1]*
- Rep. Castro, Joaquin [D-TX-20]*
- Rep. Neguse, Joe [D-CO-2]*
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, and the Committee on Rules.
S. 865 has the following seven cosponsors, six of them Democrats:
- Sen. Sanders, Bernard [I-VT]*
- Sen. Brown, Sherrod [D-OH]*
- Sen. Booker, Cory A. [D-NJ]*
- Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY]*
- Sen. Warren, Elizabeth [D-MA]*
- Sen. Markey, Edward J. [D-MA]*
- Sen. Wicker, Roger F. [R-MS]
This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.