Congress passed the Puerto Rico Status Act in December, 2022. The bill offers voters in Puerto Rico a choice of three status options: statehood, independence, or independence with free association. The Senate did not take action before the end of the term. Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) announced that she intends to reintroduce the status bill in the new congressional term.
“The first thing I am going to do, as soon as the Congress finally begins this week, is to meet with Congresswoman Velázquez,” Gonzalez-Colon told El Nuevo Dia, “to discuss the project that we have already approved and the strategies that we are going to follow together. I believe that the same measure should be filed, early, so that a process of public hearings can begin, which was one of the elements that some used to vote against it.”
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) introduced a bill in 2020 calling for a status convention to explore political status options for Puerto Rico. Gonzalez-Colon had previously introduced a statehood admission bill. The two, along with Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others, worked to harmonize the two bills and create the Puerto Rico Status Act as a bipartisan alternative.
Every Democrat in the House voted in favor of the status bill, as did 16 Republicans. The process of the bill, and specifically the lack of public hearings in Washington after the bill was finalized, came under fire from some Republicans during the debate on the floor.
There was also a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee on the two bills that provided the basis for the compromise bill. There were no public hearings held in Washington on the compromise bill itself.
Back to the Natural Resources Committee
Once the bill is filed, Gonzalez-Colon expects to hold public hearings in the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) is the new chair of this committee, which has responsibility for Puerto Rico.
Gonzalez-Colon told El Nuevo Dia that she has discussed the issue with Westerman. “We are going to start with the process of public hearings, which is the most important process so that those doubts that people have or that have been raised can be clarified in the process,” she said. “It was the main criticism that the minority leader (Westermann) had at that time. If we attend to that early, we will have these two years to be able to approve it.”
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has already reintroduced a statehood admissions bill for the District of Columbia. While there is no rule that states must enter the Union in pairs, it has been traditional to admit pairs of states since before the Civil War. At that time, it was customary to admit one state that allowed slavery alongside one that did not. When Hawaii and Alaska were admitted, Hawaii was expected to be a red state and Alaska was expected to be a blue state, so that pairing also was intended to maintain philosophical balance in Congress. In fact, Alaska now usually votes red and Hawaii typically votes blue. D.C. is expected to be a blue state, but Puerto Rico will most likely be a swing state. Still, admitting the two together could uphold the tradition of bringing in new states two at a time.