In response to a query about a new Puerto Rican statehood bill being introduced to the U.S. Senate, the office of New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich (D) shared the following release:
In Historic Step, Admission Bill is Introduced in U.S. Senate
Bill is identical to H.R. 2000 filed by Pierluisi
Washington, DC—Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi announced that an identical companion bill to H.R. 2000, the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act, is being introduced today in the U.S. Senate, marking another historic step in Puerto Rico’s fight for equality.
The bill is being introduced by Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status. Introduction of the bill sends a powerful message that the Senate, like the House of Representatives, recognizes the importance of the November 6, 2012 referendum in Puerto Rico, in which voters rejected the current territory status and favored statehood over any other status option.
“Those of us who seek equality and justice through statehood understand that this struggle requires passion and determination, but that it also demands strategic thought and action. The filing of a Senate companion bill to H.R. 2000 demonstrates that the momentum in favor of statehood continues to build. We are closer than ever before to achieving our goal. I thank pro-statehood leaders in Puerto Rico for their support and, in particular, I want to recognize the efforts that former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló has made in the U.S. Senate,” said Pierluisi.
“In the House and now in the Senate, Martin Heinrich has proven himself to be a leader of courage and conviction. Based on my meetings and conversations with Senator Heinrich, I understand that his perspective on the issue of Puerto Rico’s political status has been shaped by the obstacles that New Mexico confronted—and overcame—on its own journey to statehood. I know that Senator Heinrich recognizes the inherent flaws of territory status and respects those who want Puerto Rico to become a full and equal member of the American family,” added the Resident Commissioner.
For his part, Senator Heinrich said: “In 2012, 54 percent of Puerto Ricans rejected their current relationship with the United States. We have a responsibility to act on that referendum, and this step is critical in that effort. My home state of New Mexico spent 66 years as a territory before gaining statehood in 1912—the longest of any state. Puerto Rico has spent nearly 116 years as an American territory. That’s long enough. The debate over Puerto Rico’s status needs to be settled once and for all so that its people can focus on fostering a more prosperous future.”
The Resident Commissioner also expressed his gratitude to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is an original cosponsor of Senator Heinrich’s bill. Senator Wyden, the outgoing chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, presided over a Committee hearing on the November 2012 plebiscite last August. He will now become the chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance, and will remain a member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Senator Wyden has recognized that the current territory status was rejected by the people of Puerto Rico and should not be an option in any future vote designed to resolve Puerto Rico’s status. Senator Wyden, along with Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, has also stated clearly that status proposals like “enhanced commonwealth” are impossible. During the Committee hearing in August, Wyden said: “There is no disputing that a majority of the voters in Puerto Rico . . . have clearly expressed their opposition to continuing the current territorial status. . . . The current relationship undermines the United States’ moral standing in the world. For a nation founded on the principles of democracy and the consent of the governed, how much longer can America allow a condition to persist in which nearly four million U.S. citizens do not have a vote in the government that makes the national laws which affect their daily lives? That is the question.”
Recently, the Majority Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, confirmed his support for statehood for Puerto Rico, demonstrating the progress that statehood has made in the highest reaches of the federal government.
The Senate bill being introduced today is identical to the House bill that Pierluisi introduced in May 2013, which is cosponsored by 130 Members of Congress from both political parties. The bill responds to the aspirations expressed by the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico in the November 2012 referendum. The bill outlines the rights and responsibilities of statehood and provides for a federally-sponsored vote on the territory’s admission as a state. If a majority of voters affirm that they want Puerto Rico to become a state, the bill requires the President to transmit legislation to Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state after a reasonable transition period. The bill also expresses Congress’s commitment to act on that legislation.
“Puerto Rico is confronting the worst economic and fiscal crisis in its history, with all three credit rating agencies having downgraded our bonds to junk status. Residents of Puerto Rico are leaving in unprecedented numbers for the states in search of the quality of life they deserve as American citizens. Those who remain on the island face high unemployment, high crime and other challenges. The people of Puerto Rico comprehend that this crisis is structural in nature, rooted in the unequal and undemocratic treatment that Puerto Rico receives because it is a territory. The truth is undeniable: Puerto Rico has remarkable potential; but to fulfill it, we must change our status,” said Pierluisi.
The introduction of a Senate companion to H.R. 2000 follows closely on the heels of another major milestone in the statehood movement. In January, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which includes $2.5 million for the first federally-sponsored status vote in Puerto Rico’s history. The law requires the vote to be held among one or more options that would “resolve” Puerto Rico’s ultimate status and that are consistent with U.S. law and public policy.
Recently, the Resident Commissioner wrote to President Obama, urging his Administration to take an “active and assertive role” in structuring the vote that will be held pursuant to the appropriation. Specifically, Pierluisi proposed that the federally-sponsored vote be configured as a vote on Puerto Rico’s admission as a state, precisely as H.R. 2000 prescribes.
“H.R. 2000 provides a blueprint for how the vote conducted pursuant to the recently-enacted appropriation should be structured. The introduction of a Senate companion bill to H.R. 2000 confirms that the next step should be a vote in Puerto Rico on the territory’s admission as a state. All that remains is for Governor García Padilla and the Puerto Rico Legislative Assembly to prove that they are not afraid of democracy by scheduling this vote,” said the Resident Commissioner.
Finally, Pierluisi thanked the pro-statehood organization Igualdad (Equality) for its steadfast support and for its efforts to advance the statehood cause in Washington.