A Congressional hearing scheduled for April 14th will consider the two bills on Puerto Rico’s political status that are currently pending before the U.S. House of Representatives: HR 1522 and HR 2070. Both have companion bills in the Senate.
At its core, HR 1522 recognizes previous referendums in Puerto Rico and provides a ratification vote on statehood. Puerto Rico’s voters chose statehood as their preferred status in the 2020 referendum, as well as in plebiscites held in 2012 and 2017. HR 1522 offers members of Congress an opportunity to recognize and respond to Puerto Rico’s voices and request for statehood.
Under HR 1522, Congress would offer statehood to Puerto Rico contingent on a ratifying vote in the territory like those held in Alaska and Hawaii, the States most recently admitted to the Union. HR 1522 recognizes the Congressional obligation to proceed with statehood should that option win in the ratification vote.
Under HR 1522, any voter who does not want statehood still has a chance to vote against it. If a majority of voters say no to statehood for any reason, Puerto Rico would continue in its current territorial status. It would still be possible for the territory to work toward independence or statehood, since being a territory is not a permanent political status.
However, if the voters recognize the congressional interest and willingness to partner with Puerto Rico in its quest for a democratic status as afforded in HR 1522, and if they again vote for statehood, the message to Congress would be clearer than ever.
HR 2070 is not so simple.
It does not describe any status options. Instead, it calls for a status convention where elected delegates and an appointed Congressional Commission will develop status proposals to be included in another referendum. Congress will then have an opportunity to ratify the winning option.
The delegates to the status convention will “debate and draft definitions on self determination options for Puerto Rico, which shall be outside the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution.”
The U.S. government has repeatedly made clear statements on the options which are outside of the Territorial Clause: statehood and independence.
However, HR 2070 does not limit the options to those which are compatible with the U.S. Constitution. Nor is there any limit on the number of options to be considered.
Delegates are then responsible for drafting “at least one transition plan” for each of the options this brainstorming has come up with. They will then “select and present to the people of Puerto Rico the self-determination options that will be included in the referendum.”
Transition to statehood would impact numerous federal laws across the full range of congressional committees. These committees of jurisdiction have no voice in HR 2070.
The legislative proposal further provides for multiple transition plans for each option delegates choose, and each one will be offered as a separate choice on the ballot. Some transition plans might be constitutional, politically viable, and practical, and some might not.
There are no parameters in the bill as to which status options can be offered to Puerto Rican voters. The options could include unprecedented and unconstitutional options such as Independence and Free Association with permanent U.S. citizenship.
Voters could further be provided with the option to dictate Congress to give up its power by signing a compact agreement that Congress would not be able to change – a constitutionally impossible structure that has been presented to the people of Puerto Rico as viable but is not.
Convention results could even result in Puerto Rican voters being able to choose an option that would give Puerto Rico a seat at the United Nations and related sovereignty on matters including immigration and trade while maintaining an open border with the United States, permanent U.S. citizenship, full access to Medicaid and other federal programs, ability to cherry pick which U.S. laws apply to Puerto Rico, and extensive U.S. funding. A tempting – but impossible – option for any voter.