House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has announced that the Puerto Rico Status Act will be considered by the House of Representatives tomorrow.
The proposal calls for a referendum vote that would enable Puerto Ricans to choose from among three alternatives to Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory: statehood, independence and independence followed by free association with the United States.
“I’m pleased to announce that a bipartisan group of House Members, in cooperation with Puerto Rican officials, arrived at a consensus on the Puerto Rico Status Act,” tweeted Leader Hoyer at 1:30 pm today.
“As Majority Leader, I will bring this critical bill to the House Floor for a vote tomorrow,” he continued.
“Over the past several months, we came together to act on a belief that we all share: this historic legislation will grant Puerto Ricans the self-determination they deserve and allow them to determine the future of their island themselves.”
Negotiators made two changes to the bill as originally introduced. First, the new bill requires the Puerto Rico Elections Commission to “invite national and international election observers” to Puerto Rico for the plebiscite vote and requires the observers to “be present during the initial plebiscite vote and during the runoff plebiscite vote.”
Second, although the revised bill continues to end birth in Puerto Rico as a basis for United States citizenship under any future U.S.-Puerto Rico free association relationship between the two sovereign nations, the new proposal carves out an exception to this rule if one parent is a citizen of the U.S.
The initial draft denied continued U.S. citizenship to babies born in Puerto Rico under a free association arrangement unless both parents were U.S. citizens.
This exception is set to last “the duration of the first agreement of the Articles of Free Association.” The length of such agreements is determined in the course of free association negotiations and varies.
In addition, residents of the three current nations in free association with the U.S. (Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia) are not U.S. citizens.
U.S. Free Association agreements also require confirmation by both chambers of Congress, which means that a new Congress could essentially disregard this provision altogether when it passes legislation to implement a new free association arrangement.
Perhaps in recognition of this uncertainty, only the statehood option contained in the new bill requires U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans to be “recognized, protected, and secured.”
The statehood option to be presented to Puerto Rican voters is explicit that “United States citizenship of those born in Puerto Rico is recognized, protected, and secured under the United States Constitution in the same way such citizenship is for all United States citizens born in the other States.”
This language is necessarily absent on the other ballot options.
Click here for the text of the bill.
Click here for a comparison between the modified bill and the original bill.