At a press conference Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-NY), together with Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Small Business Committee Chair Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi (D) presented a compromise bill on Puerto Rico status.
“This draft legislation represents a consensus among Members to find a path forward for the people of Puerto Rico to choose their own future. I believe in self-determination for the people in Puerto Rico, and all people. These decisions are not up to me, or to Congress, or other elected officials in Washington – and our agreement will allow our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico to determine their own future,” said Hoyer.
“I’m proud to have worked closely with so many who care deeply about Puerto Rico and ensuring that its people can pursue the status of their choosing, and I appreciate all the hard work put in by Chairman Grijalva, Resident Commissioner Gonzalez-Colon, Chairwoman Velazquez, Rep. Soto, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, and Gov. Pierluisi. I also want to thank Rep. Ritchie Torres, who was unable to attend our press conference today, for continuing to be engaged on this issue and for being a strong advocate for the people of Puerto Rico. I look forward to working with them to move this process forward toward eventual consideration of the Puerto Rico Status Act by the House as soon as final legislation is ready,”
The Puerto Rico Status Act
The new draft bill calls for another plebiscite to take place on November 5, 2023. This would be the first federally-sponsored referendum among non-territorial options.
The three options to be presented on the ballot are these:
- Independence with a Compact of Free Association
The current territorial status would not be on the ballot. Nor would “commonwealth.”
If any of the options gains a majority of votes in November, that will be the status of Puerto Rico going forward. If none of the options gains a majority, there would be a runoff in 2024.
Either way, the bill would be self-executing. That is, whatever the voters of Puerto Rico choose, the current Congress commits to taking action on that vote.
The discussion draft includes specific plans for citizenship and the process of transition to the new status for each of the three status options.
A discussion draft
The bill was presented as a discussion draft. That means that public input is solicited. The House Natural Resources Committee is setting up a page at their website for public comment. (The comment link is not yet live, as of this writing.) Rep. Raul Grijalva, the chair of that committee, announced at the press conference that he intends to travel to Puerto Rico to listen to the voices of voters there.
“The people of Puerto Rico have weighed in on their political future numerous times with no resolution or action from Congress. Addressing Puerto Rico’s political status is one of my top priorities as Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and I am proud that we now have an agreement with the potential to pass the House,” said Grijalva. “But to be clear, no vote on the House floor should occur before receiving input from the people of Puerto Rico, so that is the process we are embarking on now. I take Puerto Rico’s decolonization very seriously, and I will continue to push for this goal until it is realized,”
The Natural Resources Committee will have markup and hearings on the bill, and Majority Leader Hoyer has committed to get the bill to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. Rep. Gonzalez-Colon, who will not be able to vote for the bill because Puerto Rico lacks a vote in Congress, said, “The people of Puerto Rico have voted for Statehood on multiple occasions and Congress has never expressed itself to resolve the status. This is the first time that we have a binding plebiscite with only non-territorial options: Statehood, Independence and Sovereignty in Free Association with the United States and in this way honors the mandate of the people in favor of statehood, providing a mechanism to achieve it,”