Federal legislation introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) to advance self determination for Puerto Rico (S. 2020) gained a new cosponsor yesterday: Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). Senator Schatz joins Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) – U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman and former Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman – as a supporter of the bill.
The federal proposal would authorize the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission to hold a vote enabling residents of Puerto Rico to cast a “yes or no” vote on statehood. The bill also describes the steps that the President and Congress would take to respond to that vote if Puerto Rico chooses statehood. The legislation defines “State,” noting that individuals born in Puerto Rico would become United States citizens by virtue of the Constitution of the United States, instead of under the 1917 law that controls citizenship status in Puerto Rico today. The proposal also sets forth a transition period during which equal treatment of Puerto Rico in federal program and tax laws would be gradually phased in.
On June 27, 1959, a similar vote was held in Hawaii on the yes-or-no question: “Shall Hawaii immediately be admitted into the Union as a State?” The outcome of this vote led to federal action resulting in statehood.
Identical legislation (HR 2020) has been proposed in the House of Representatives by Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D). The House proposal has the support of 131 cosponsors, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI).