U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR.), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the Puerto Rico Admission Act, a Senate companion bill for H.R. 1522, in the Senate last week.
What’s a companion bill?
For any bill to become law, it must be approved by the House and the Senate. Sometimes the House approves a bill and the Senate doesn’t consider it, as was the case with the D.C. statehood bill last year. Sometimes the House and the Senate consider two different bills, and have to work out a compromise.
The other option is a companion bill, which presents the same text to the House and the Senate. H.R. 1522 was presented in the House of Representatives, and S.780 was introduced in the Senate. They have the same text, so they are companion bills.
The senators presenting the bill
Senator Heinrich sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for Puerto Rico. “Last November, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood and for full voting representation in the United States,” he said. “Congress now has a moral responsibility to respond.”
Brian Schatz, representing Hawaii, the 50th state and the most recent territory to become a state, tweeted “Puerto Rico statehood should be one of our highest priorities in the next Congress. If they had Senators and Representatives these Americans wouldn’t be so badly mistreated in the wake of the disaster” in 2019.
Cosponsor Ron Wyden has long been a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico. Wyden chaired a 2013 hearing following the 2012 plebiscite and was involved in writing the law calling for the 2017 plebiscite. Both these votes showed statehood as the most popular option. “I have always believed that the Americans living in Puerto Rico needed to be able to decide their future status. They have made it loud and clear — several times — that they want Puerto Rico statehood,” said Wyden on the introduction of S. 780. “These American citizens deserve full representation in Congress and equal access to essential federal services. Puerto Rico should be treated the same as all the territories that came before them — they want statehood and should be provided that path.”
Sen. Alex Padilla is a new senator from California with a focus on human rights. “Puerto Ricans are American citizens, yet they have been denied access to the full benefits of our democracy – most notably voting representation in Congress and the right to vote in our Presidential general elections. Too often our government’s response to natural disasters and economic crises on the island has been woefully inadequate,” he said in a statement on S. 780. “Providing Puerto Ricans with a clear path to approve statehood will go a long way toward ensuring the wellbeing, safety, and economic security of our fellow American citizens.”
Heinrich published the text of the bill on his website.
S. 780 begins with a brief history of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. Mentioning the cession of Puerto Rico to the United States by Spain in 1898, the 1917 attainment of U.S. citizenship by residents of Puerto Rico, and the contributions of Puerto Rico to the United States, the bill goes on to give details of Puerto Rico’s exemplary service in the U.S. military. This is contrasted with the inequality of Puerto Rico resulting from its unincorporated territory status.
The bill points out the high level of integration into the United States achieved by Puerto Rico. The bill goes on to report that Puerto Rican voters chose statehood in 2017 and in 2020, and that the government of Puerto Rico approved a Joint Resolution asking that Congress and the President of the United States admit Puerto Rico into the Union as a State.
The bill goes on to list specific details of statehood for Puerto Rico. The land occupied by the territory will not change, the constitution has already been approved by Congress and will not change, and the current government and responsibilities will not change. All laws currently in force that do not conflict with statehood will continue in force.
Upon approval of the bill, Puerto Rico will conduct a ratification vote, just as Hawaii and Alaska did. If the voters of Puerto Rico vote to accept the offer of statehood, the bill commits to Puerto Rico becoming a state.
This proposal would represent the first Congressional commitment to Puerto Rico with respect to its status. If voters again choose statehood, Congress is explicit in the bill that its intent is to progress towards statehood, respecting Puerto Rican voters and the democratic process. If voters choose not to become a state, Puerto Rico will remain a territory of the United States.