Natural Resources Committee Passes Puerto Rico Status Act, Makes History
Washington, D.C. – Today, in a full committee markup, the House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 8393, the Puerto Rico Status Act, by a bipartisan vote of 25-20. The legislation, introduced by Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) with original cosponsors Small Business Committee Chair Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), represents an offer from Congress to the people of Puerto Rico to determine the future of their political status.
The Puerto Rico Status Act details the transition to and implementation of a non-territory status for Puerto Rico— Statehood, Independence, or Sovereignty in Free Association with the United States—that is chosen by a majority of voters in Puerto Rico. This is the first time the full Committee has formally recognized that the status quo territory status for Puerto Rico is unsustainable and cannot continue.
In his opening remarks at today’s markup, Chair Grijalva said, “Finding a resolution to Puerto Rico’s political status has been one of the top priorities as Chairman of this Committee. It was crucial to me that any proposal from Congress would have to include the decolonization of Puerto Rico. And that the proposal to decolonize be an informed process and informed by participation of the people of Puerto Rico… We have an opportunity here to deal with the colonial legacy—a legacy that should not be part of the governance of this nation of ours—and the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico deserve to have the same democratic principles that we believe in and swear to. [They should] be allowed to have their voice, their will, their vote have the principal influence on what their future is.”
Chair Grijalva’s full opening remarks are available here.
In her opening remarks, Rep. Velázquez said, “There cannot be a true decolonization process without the voices of Puerto Ricans being front and center. After all, it will be up to them to choose the decolonization option that they deem best. I trust that after this bill follows its legislative course, it will be Puerto Ricans who will be empowered to make their own decisions. Congress must recognize that this bill is one of many steps of righting the wrongs of the pain and suffering we have inflicted upon the island for more than 120 years.”
Rep. Velázquez’ full opening remarks are available here.
In her opening remarks, Rep. González-Colón said, “We have been debating our relationship with the United States for more than 124 years. This bill gives us a final resolution. Remaining in a subordinate and inferior condition for political or financial convenience is not a valid option… This bill is a matter of making good the promise of our Founding Fathers in the preamble of our Constitution in forming a more perfect union, and the equal rights the people of Puerto Rico deserve, who for the past 105 years have been proud American citizens, with thousands paying the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our liberties and freedom, all while being denied equal participation in federal decision-making processes.”
Rep. González-Colón’s full opening remarks are available here.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Soto said, “Today’s the day. After 120 years. Our fellow Puerto Ricans back on the island who pledge allegiance to our flag, pay certain fed taxes already, and have served in our military all that time, dying for our country, for our freedom, for a country where they can’t even vote for the president of the United States, their commander in chief.”
Rep. Soto’s full opening remarks are available here.
In his opening remarks, Leader Hoyer said, “I would hope very sincerely that this Committee will take the historic step of moving this forward so that we can put it on the floor of the House of Representatives so the House of Representatives can give—not make the decision itself, but give—to the people of Puerto Rico the option of making a democratic choice of their own status. That’s what America’s about.”
Leader Hoyer’s full opening remarks are available here.
Committee Republicans introduced several amendments during the markup, including making English the official language of Puerto Rico, requiring Puerto Rico to reimburse its federal disaster relief funding, keeping the current colonial status as an option for future political status, and eliminating funds for voter education. None of the amendments passed.
Background on the Puerto Rico Status Act
The Puerto Rico Status Act is the product of an extensive and deliberate negotiation process between the main sponsors of the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act (H.R. 1522) introduced by Rep. Soto and the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act (H.R. 2070) introduced by Rep. Velázquez. Last year, the Committee held two legislative hearings (here and here) on both proposals with testimony and feedback from elected officials, legal and humans rights experts, and residents. Members and staff also held meetings with other stakeholders on the two bills.
In May, the cosponsors of the Puerto Rico Status Act, in addition to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Governor of Puerto Rico Pedro R. Pierluisi, announced the Discussion Draft of the Puerto Rico Status Act. Following its release, Chair Grijalva, Rep. Velázquez, Rep. González-Colón, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez traveled to Puerto Rico from June 2-4 to meet with Governor Pierluisi, local elected officials, leaders of political parties, and members of the public to seek additional input on the Discussion Draft. The three-day visit included a day-long public input forum, attended by more than 400 members of the public, including nearly 100 individuals who shared comments and suggestions on the text with the delegation.
In addition to these in-person opportunities for public input, the Committee launched an innovative online public input process using a submission tool called POPVOX, which allowed any member of the public to review the Discussion Draft text and provide input. The Committee received nearly 120 public comments, all of which were reviewed and considered for the bill’s final language.
Details on the Puerto Rico Status Act
The Puerto Rico Status Act represents an offer from Congress to the people of Puerto Rico to determine their future with confidence that Congress will carry out its responsibility to implement the will of a clear majority of eligible voters in Puerto Rico. Key features of the bill include:
- Authorizes a federally sponsored plebiscite to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status.
- Specifies and defines Puerto Rico’s non-territorial status options: Independence, Sovereignty in Free Association with the United States, and Statehood.
- Provides for an objective, nonpartisan, federally funded voter education campaign leading up to the vote.
- Establishes a process and timeline for the U.S. Department of Justice to review the plebiscite voter education materials and plebiscite ballot design.
- Authorizes necessary funds to carry out an initial plebiscite and, if necessary, a runoff plebiscite.
- Describes the transition to and implementation of each status option in sufficient detail for eligible voters in Puerto Rico to make an informed choice about Puerto Rico’s future political status.
- Ensures the result of the plebiscite is binding, and implements the option that is chosen by a majority of eligible voters in Puerto Rico.
Full text of the Puerto Rico Status Act is available here: https://bit.ly/3o8pQ6C The Committee has also published an unofficial Spanish translation of the Puerto Rico Status Act for the general public’s convenience, available here: https://bit.ly/3chMB5b If there is any inconsistency between the English and Spanish versions of the bill text, the English version shall be the prevailing version.
Media Contact: Lindsay Gressard
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