A bill to make Puerto Rico a State January 1, 2021 if Puerto Ricans vote for the status again was formally proposed today in the U.S. House of Representatives by a symbolic 51 members.
The territory’s resident commissioner in the House, Pedro Pierluisi, led the 50 others from both national political parties in sponsoring the legislation. Pierluisi heads Puerto Rico’s statehood party as well as is its official representative to the U.S. Government. A dozen other sponsors are members of the Republican majority of the House.
The bill would authorize a vote on statehood before 2018 and require the president of the United States to name a five-member Commission on the Equal Application of Federal Law to Puerto Rico within 90 days if the vote is in favor of the status. Two of the members would have to be from the territory.
The panel’s report would be due July 1, 2018.
Puerto Ricans would elect U.S. senators and House of Representatives members as well as presidential electors in the 2020 elections.
The Commonwealth government would be authorized to use the $2.5 million appropriated by the Federal government a year ago for a vote on an option or options that can resolve the question of the territory’s future status for the bill’s vote on statehood.
In the territory’s first plebiscite on all of its status options held along with its elections in 2012, 54 percent of the vote rejected territory status and 61.2 percent chose statehood among the alternatives.
Because the governor and legislature majorities very narrowly elected at the same time disputed the plebiscite and lobbied against Federal action on its petition for a transition to statehood, the Obama Administration proposed and Congress passed an authorization for a plebiscite under Federal auspices.
The authorization limited the possible options to proposals that do not conflict with the Constitution, laws and policies of the U.S. as determined by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The new governor and legislature majorities from the territory’s “commonwealth status” party had initially objected to the 2012 plebiscite because it did not include their party’s proposal for an unprecedented “commonwealth” status. The “commonwealth” proposal had been rejected by the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations as well as by congressional leaders as being impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
After introducing the bill this morning, Pierluisi picked up additional endorsements for the bill from other House members.
Pierluisi led U.S. House and Senate members in sponsoring a somewhat similar bill in the last Congress.
The statehood party members of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly have proposed legislation for a plebiscite on statehood.
Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla began to lobby against a bill in the new Congress that included a vote on statehood five weeks before the Congress took office less than a month ago.
Party leaders such as former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon, a major influence on Garcia Padilla on status issues, recently opposed a vote on statehood because Puerto Ricans would vote for the status.
Hernandez Colon also wants a plebiscite before the 2016 elections because he thinks it is likely that statehood party candidates will win most offices then and move the territory towards statehood in 2017. His plebiscite would include four options — in addition to statehood, his new “commonwealth status” proposal, independence, and nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end.
The “commonwealth status” party is split between Hernandez Colon’s proposal and the proposal of some other party leaders for nationhood in an association with the U.S. but with U.S. citizenship.
Hernandez Colon’s son, Juan Hernandez, who heads Gov. Garcia’s offices in the States, was quick to oppose the bill introduced by the 51 members of the U.S. House. He charged that it is “exclusionary,” although opponents of statehood would be able to vote against the status as easily as those who want to vote for it.
He also argued that the bill goes against the positions of Obama and Congress, although a vote on statehood is possible under the Federal law enacted last year and although 51 members of Congress sponsored the bill.
Hernandez additionally claimed that Pierluisi does not represent all Puerto Ricans. Pierluisi is their official representative to the Federal government by law — and was the highest vote-getter for any office in the 2012 elections.
A final assertion was that statehood only got 44% of the vote in the 2012 plebiscite. The Puerto Rico Elections Commission continues to report that it won 61.16% of the vote.
in remarks in the House this morning, Pierluisi said, “The people of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, they have enriched the life of this nation for generations, and they have fought and died to defend her. Thus, if a majority of Puerto Rico voters affirm their desire in a federally-sponsored vote to become a full and equal part of the American family, the will of the people should be honored. Democracy requires no less.”