The chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has become the 131st member of the U.S. House of Representatives to sponsor a bill committing to statehood for Puerto Rico if islanders vote for the status a second time.
The sponsorship by Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) brings Hispanic Caucus support for the bill to nearly three-quarters of the members.
The bill would require the president of the United States to send the Congress a plan to transition the territory to statehood if Puerto Ricans choose statehood in a “Yes” or “No” vote. It also pledges that the Congress would pass such a plan.
A transition period phasing-in equality would be needed to enable the insular economy and the Federal budget to smoothly accommodate the changes in Federal tax and spending programs that would be needed for Puerto Rico to become a State.
The bill’s lead sponsor is Puerto Rico’s representative to the Federal government, Pedro Pierluisi, who also heads the territory’s statehood party and was its top vote getter in the 2012 elections.
Two members of the U.S. Senate have sponsored an identical bill.
The bills would fit in with a Federal law enacted in January that provides funding for a plebiscite on a status option or options that would “resolve” the question of the territory’s ultimate status and are found by the U.S. Department of Justice to not conflict with the Constitution and basic laws and policies of the U.S.
The options could be statehood, independence, or nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
Under the law, Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission, which has representation from all three of its status-based political parties would submit a proposed option or options to the U.S. Justice Department for the plebiscite.
Puerto Rico’s current territory status, sometimes misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after a word in the official name of the insular government, could not be an option because Puerto Ricans would continue to be able to petition for statehood or nationhood as long as Puerto Rico is a territory without voting representation in the government that makes its national laws .
As the bill Hinojosa sponsored notes, Puerto Ricans voted for statehood by 61.2% in a plebiscite under local law held at the time of the 2012 elections. Nationhood in a free association with the U.S. received 33.3% of the vote and independence 4.5%.
Puerto Rico’s current territory status was also rejected in the plebiscite by 54%.
President Barack Obama’s Administration supported the plebiscite and hailed its results. But the Administration proposed the new law and Resident Commissioner Pierluisi and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) introduced the statehood plebiscite bills because the “Commonwealth” party territorial governor very narrowly elected at the time of the plebiscite has lobbied against positive Federal action on its results.
Now Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla campaigned for the losing current status option in the vote. He and other “Commonwealth” party leaders objected the plebiscite because it did not include the party’s proposed “Commonwealth status.”
Under the proposal, Puerto Rico would be a nation and able to enter into international agreements that require nationhood but the U.S. would be permanently bound to it and to continuing to grant U.S. citizenship, all current aid to Puerto Ricans, and free entry to goods shipped from Puerto Rico. Federal laws would apply but the government of the Commonwealth could nullify the application of the laws and Federal court jurisdiction.
Federal officials of both national political parties have repeatedly said that the proposal is not possible for constitutional and other reasons.
“Commonwealth” party leaders oppose the “Statehood: Yes or No” plebiscite legislation now in Congress although the party repeatedly asked the Congress for such a bill as late as 2010.
Garcia Padilla has asked Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly to consider the new Federal law along with the status choice process that the “Commonwealth” party said it would provide for if the Obama-proposed Federal plebiscite legislation did not become law before January. The bill became law two weeks later.
The “Commonwealth” party’s status choice process would call an insular government assembly on the territory’s status.