On Friday, Natural Resources Committee chair Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced a bill that outlines a process for the people of Puerto Rico to decide their political status in a binding resolution that would force Congress to carry out their decision.
“After some serious delays over content, the principles behind the Puerto Rico Status Act are ready to move on to a markup,” Rep. Grijalva told Latino Rebels. “I’m optimistic and appreciate the work of everyone involved. We need to get it done by the end of this month if we’re going to do it.”
The announcement of the bill comes after a coalition of Puerto Ricans living in the Diaspora sent a letter to Rep. Grijalva last month, urging him and his colleagues for transparency in their drafting activities to resolve Puerto Rico’s status.
Rep. Grijalva, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), and Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced the discussion draft of the Puerto Rico Status Act in May. The draft came about after weeks of negotiations between the sponsors of two competing bills: the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, first introduced by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) in March 2021 and reintroduced with slight modifications a year later; and the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, sponsored by Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL).
After releasing the discussion draft, the Natural Resources Committee —which oversees insular affairs, including Puerto Rico— opened an online public input forum where any member of the public could examine the draft and submit their input. The committee received approximately 120 public comments, according to a statement.
The committee also took comments from the public in person. Grijalva, Velázquez, González-Colón, and Ocasio-Cortez traveled to Puerto Rico in June and held a public forum in which Puerto Ricans could share their thoughts on the draft. The visit lasted three days and included meetings with Gov. Pierluissi, local elected officials, and leaders of political parties.
The committee said in a statement that public comments and input from their visit to Puerto Rico were considered and incorporated into the changes made to the draft before settling on the final text of the bill.
“Based on the feedback provided by the people of Puerto Rico,” the statement read, the bill makes three clarifications: “That approval of a political status option must be by more than 50 percent of the valid votes cast”; “that if voters choose Sovereignty in Free Association with the United States, during the implementation of the first Articles of Free Association, an individual born in Puerto Rico to two parents who are citizens of the U.S. shall be a U.S. citizen at birth;” and “that the transition and implementation of any non-territory status option requires conforming amendments to existing federal law.”
The bill also “includes new ballot information explaining the U.S. federal tax law implications under the three non-territory status options on the ballot for individuals and business [sic] in Puerto Rico.”
“After months of deliberate negotiations, I’m pleased that we now have a deal and are ready to move forward on the Puerto Rico Status Act,” Velázquez said in a statement. “n this bill, we have a compromise that does not stack the deck in favor of one outcome or another but establishes a fair and democratic process for self-determination. I thank my counterparts, both Democrat and Republican, for their good-faith efforts in putting this legislation together.”
“With this legislation, Congress rejects the status quo and allows voters to decide their future with three constitutionally viable options,” said Resident Commissioner González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of Congress. “As a statehood supporter, I am confident the people of Puerto Rico will ratify their desire to become a permanent part of the Union on an equal footing with our fellow Americans.”
“Finding a resolution to Puerto Rico’s political status has been one of my top priorities as Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee,” Grijalva said in his statement. “But I know that the decolonization of Puerto Rico shouldn’t be a decision made by lawmakers in Washington alone. That’s why I’m so proud of both the work and commitment of my colleagues toward incorporating feedback from the leaders and residents of Puerto Rico into this final bill.”
“I am confident we have a bill that will finally put the future of Puerto Rico in the hands of those who live there,” Grijalva added. “I’m looking forward to bringing the Puerto Rico Status Act before the full Committee next week.”
Chantal Vaca is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media based in New York City and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. Twitter: @VacaChantal