One of the continuing issues for Puerto Rico, as well as for other U.S. territories, is their limited representation in the U.S. legislature. Residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote for the President of the United States, though Puerto Ricans who move to a state can automatically do so. Puerto Rico has a representative in House Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, but he is unable to vote on the floor of the house. He can vote in committees and on procedural matters only.
District and Territory Commissioners are allowed to introduce legislation and to vote in committees. Pierluisi would like to see them have the ability to file and sign discharge petitions as well.
A discharge petition is a tool for bringing a bill to the floor without going through the usual channels. A bill must usually have the support of the house majority leadership to be voted upon. A discharge petition must have signatures of the majority of the House to take effect, and it is rare for such a petition to succeed. However, the threat of a discharge petition can help focus discussion.
At the moment, there is a discharge petition circulating which could force movement on the government shutdown.
Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) filed a discharge petition, H. Res. 372, to bring to the floor a bill which would temporarily fund the government and end the shutdown. As of October 12th, signatures can be added. If the petition gains the signatures of an absolute majority of the representatives, the vote can take place.
Pierluisi points out that Puerto Rico is affected by the shutdown — perhaps more than the states — and that he should therefore be able to assist in resolving the problem. The other territories and the District of Columbia are also strongly affected by the actions of the House.
“Under House rules, delegates from the territories and the District of Columbia are not eligible to sign any discharge petition, including the discharge petition that is being filed to compel a floor vote on a Continuing Resolution, free of any toxic provisions, to temporarily fund the government and end the shutdown. A clean Continuing Resolution has been approved by the Senate, but has not been brought up for a vote in the House,” said Pierluisi. “The delegates deserve to have a real voice in debates of national importance, including the current debate over the government shutdown.”