Bills to have a plebiscite on statehood in Puerto Rico this November 8th have been introduced in both houses of the Commonwealth Legislative Assembly.
The legislation calls for Puerto Ricans to vote on permanence and equality within the United States under a Federal law enacted a year ago. The law provides for an insular plebiscite on a status option or status options that can resolve the question of the territory’s ultimate status.
The option or options are to be proposed by Puerto Rico’s “State” Elections Commission and must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice as not conflicting with the Constitution, laws, and policies of the U.S.
Statehood would, obviously, meet the requirements.
The other possible options under the Federal law are independence and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
The current unincorporated territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after a word in the formal name of the insular Government of Puerto Rico, would not qualify. This is because it cannot resolve Puerto Rico’s status issue as Puerto Ricans, U.S. citizens by birth, can petition for statehood or nationhood as long as unincorporated territory status continues.
There is no other possible “commonwealth” governing arrangement that would qualify because, as President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status reported in March 2011, Puerto Rico would remain subject to Congress’ broad powers to govern territories of the U.S. under any “Commonwealth” arrangement.
A plebiscite under Commonwealth law held along with the territory’s elections in November 2012 rejected territory status and chose statehood by 61.2%. Nationhood in an association with the U.S. received 33.3% of the vote, and independence 4.5%.
The Federal law was enacted because the “commonwealth status” party governor and majorities in both houses of the Legislative Assembly very narrowly elected at the same time disputed the plebiscite. The Obama Administration, which supported the vote and hailed its results, was concerned that their opposition would lead to inaction on the self-determination decision of Puerto Ricans.
Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress went along with the proposal in the budget for the Justice Department.
The Federal law also appropriated $2.5 million for the new insular plebiscite it authorizes. The bills introduced the Legislative Assembly would use the funds to conduct the plebiscite and a public education campaign on the ballot option, as provided for in the Federal law.
The bills were sponsored by all of the members of each house of the Legislative Assembly who are members of the statehood party.
“Commonwealth” party officials who control the insular government have not acted on the first-ever Federal plebiscite authorization on Puerto Rico’s central issue because of a stalemate in the party leadership. It is split between those who want to cling to the rejected territory status and those who want to seek nationhood. Neither side has enough support for the party to make a decision.
In the last Congress, 132 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and three members of the U.S, Senate joined Puerto Rico’s sole representative, who can only vote in House committees, in sponsoring bills that would have required presidential action and pledged congressional action to make Puerto Rico a State if a majority of Puerto Ricans voted for the status in a “Yes” or “No” referendum. The territory’s resident commissioner in the House, Pedro Pierluisi, is the president of the statehood party.