Two years ago, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a non-voting member of the U.S. Congress and the leader of the island’s pro-statehood party, submitted the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act to the House of Representatives, with the hope that his fellow voting members would act on resolving Puerto Rico’s political status. A Senate version of that bill was soon submitted by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich (D). Two years have passed, and Congress didn’t vote on the bill.
Today, Pierluisi went on the floor of the House to submit a new bill:
His office also issued this release:
Feb 4, 2015
Washington, DC—Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi today introduced the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act, a bipartisan bill that would result in Puerto Rico becoming a state on January 1, 2021 once a majority of the electorate in Puerto Rico votes in favor of admission in a federally-sponsored vote. The bill is a response to a November 2012 referendum in Puerto Rico, sponsored by the local government, in which voters soundly rejected territory status and expressed a clear preference for statehood.
Specifically, the bill would authorize a vote to be held in Puerto Rico within one year of the bill’s enactment—that is, no later than the end of 2017. The ballot would consist of a single question: “Shall Puerto Rico be admitted as a State of the United States?” In 2014, at Pierluisi’s initiative, and over the objections of the Governor of Puerto Rico and his allies, Congress enacted a $2.5 million appropriation to enable Puerto Rico to conduct the first-federally sponsored vote in its history, so long as certain conditions are met. Under the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act, the admission vote authorized by the bill may be funded with the $2.5 million that Congress approved. This is appropriate because a straightforward vote on admission clearly satisfies the conditions that the federal government established in the appropriations law.
If a majority of voters reaffirm their desire for admission, this would trigger an automatic series of steps that would culminate in statehood.
First, by February 2018, the President would issue a proclamation that would formally begin Puerto Rico’s transition period from territory status to statehood.
Second, the President would appoint a five-member commission to prepare a report that describes the federal program and federal tax laws that treat the territory of Puerto Rico differently than the states. The commission would transmit the report to the President and Congress by July 1, 2018. The various congressional committees could then enact legislation to phase in equal treatment of Puerto Rico under the identified federal laws during the transition period, so that the admission process functions in an orderly and efficient manner.
Third, by January 1, 2020, the government of Puerto Rico would take all necessary steps to prepare Puerto Rico to hold elections for federal offices on November 3, 2020. On that date, residents of Puerto Rico would vote for President and Vice-President, two U.S. senators, and voting members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Finally, on January 1, 2021, the President would issue a proclamation that Puerto Rico is admitted into the Union as a state. Puerto Rico’s U.S. senators and U.S. representatives would be sworn into office several days later at the start of the 117th Congress, and Puerto Rico would be treated on equal footing with all other states.
“This bill is modeled on the legislation enacted by Congress with respect to Alaska and Hawaii, the only territories to become states within the last 100 years. When Alaska and Hawaii were territories, they each held votes—sponsored by the local government—in which voters expressed a desire for statehood. This is precisely what occurred in Puerto Rico in November 2012. Ultimately, Congress approved an admission act for Alaska in July 1958 and an admission act for Hawaii in March 1959. Those acts of Congress provided for admission to occur once a majority of voters affirmed in a federally-sponsored vote that they desired statehood. Again, that is precisely what the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act would do,” said Pierluisi.
The Resident Commissioner is introducing the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Process Act with 51 bipartisan cosponsors—39 Democrats and 12 Republicans. This level of support is noteworthy because the bill was filed less than one month after the start of the 114th Congress. This is three-and-a-half months earlier than the previous status bill filed by the Resident Commissioner, H.R. 2000, which was introduced with 33 original cosponsors. The level of support for this bill is also striking given that the Governor of Puerto Rico and the director of the Governor’s Washington, D.C. office, fierce defenders of Puerto Rico’s current territory status, have already sent letters to every Member of Congress urging them not to support Pierluisi’s forthcoming legislation.
“The statehood movement is the strongest political force in Puerto Rico. Since November 2012, we have been on the forward march, while defenders of the status quo are on the defensive and in disarray. When the statehood movement is united, we are as strong as steel. I hope all statehood advocates will unite behind this bill and assist in the effort to seek additional cosponsors. Every cosponsor is significant. Each Member of Congress who cosponsors the bill is declaring, in essence, that he or she will support Puerto Rico’s admission as a state once a majority of voters in Puerto Rico confirm their desire for statehood in a federally-sponsored vote on admission,” said Pierluisi.
“I want to be very clear. This bill is an important part of a much broader, multi-dimensional strategy that we are pursuing. At our urging, Congress has already provided an appropriation of $2.5 million to fund the first federally-sponsored vote in Puerto Rico’s history, with the declared goal of resolving the territory’s status. This is the most significant step the federal government has ever taken to settle the status debate. All 22 members of the statehood delegation in the Puerto Rico House and all 8 members of the statehood delegation in the Puerto Rico Senate cosponsored bills that propose to use that appropriation to conduct a federally-sponsored vote on Puerto Rico’s admission as a state. All that remains is for the Puerto Rico Governor, Speaker of the House, and Senate President—each a defender of the failed status quo—to show some courage and schedule this vote. The fact that they have refused to do so speaks volumes,” added the Resident Commissioner.
Since the current Congress began, Pierluisi has delivered four speeches on statehood on the floor of the U.S. House to raise public awareness about the issue, and to underscore the fact that a majority of his constituents have rejected territory status and that Puerto Rico is therefore being governed without its consent. Next week, the Resident Commissioner will speak at New York University Law School about the quest for statehood for Puerto Rico, and he intends to deliver speeches to additional audiences around the country over the next two years.