HR 6246 Is “In Committee”; What Does that Mean?

HR 6246, the Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2018, is “in committee.” Bills are introduced to the full House of Representatives, and then they are sent to a committee. In this case, the committee in the House Committee on Natural Resources.

The chair of the committee can send the bill on to a subcommittee. In this case, the chair of the committee is Rob Bishop, who is also one of the cosponsors of the bill. The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. “Insular” means “related to islands.”

If the chair decides not to send the bill to a subcommittee, the entire committee can hold a markup session — a discussion about the bill. In either the main committee or the subcommittee or both, there can also be hearings. Witnesses are invited to give more information about the bill or other factors, and to answer questions about the bill.

A bill can also stay in in committee and never come back to the floor of Congress. For example, HR 900, a bill for independence for Puerto Rico, was sent to the House Natural Resources Committee and then to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs. It had no cosponsors, no hearings, and no markup session, so it died in committee. That means that it did not become a law. This happens to most bills that are introduced in Congress.

Hearings

Committees and subcommittees can hold hearings so they can get the information they need to understand a bill fully. Take the example of H.R. 2499, an earlier status bill. Some of the questions that came up in the discussion in the House Natural Resources Committee included these:

  • Is the process in H.R. 2499 the same as in Alaska and Hawaii, the two most recent territories to become states? Alaska and Hawaii had up/ down votes on statehood, so H.R. 2499 was quite different. Puerto Rico was also asking for a recognized referendum before the statehood bill was passed. Alaska and Hawaii did it the other way around: the official referendum came after Congress had agreed to admit the territories as states.
  • What would statehood for Puerto Rico cost? The committee concluded that they couldn’t tell for sure. They calculated that 4.5 to 7 billion additional dollars might go to Puerto Rico each year from the federal government. They recognized that federal income taxes from Puerto Rico could reduce that cost. They also noted that only 43% of residents of Mississippi pay federal income tax, and Puerto Rico could be in the same position. However, they concluded that “how much a new state would cost in higher spending and how much in new taxes would be collected shouldn’t be the determining factor in whether statehood is granted.”
  • How would the number of seats in the House be affected? The committee came up with three different possibilities. They could take seats away from other states. They could let the House have more members. Or they could let the House be larger temporarily, with a plan to reapportion the seats after the next Census. The committee didn’t choose among these options, but said that Congress should do so.
  • Would English have to be the official language of Puerto Rico? The committee noted that English and Spanish are both official languages in Puerto Rico. They remembered that language questions have come up for other territories when they became states. And they suggested that Congress should decide before Puerto Rico becomes a state whether there should be any requirements associated with the use of English.

Markup

Once the subcommittee or the committee feels that they understand all the issues, there will be markup sessions which allow the committee members to make changes to the bill. Both the subcommittee and the committee can mark up the bill.

If the bill changes a great deal, there can even be a new bill introduced that includes all those changes.

The committee will then vote on the bill. They can report it back to the Congress with a favorable recommendation, saying that they believe it is a good bill. They can also report it back to the House with a negative recommendation or no recommendation at all. They can also choose not to vote on the bill — another chance for the bill to die in committee.

Subcommittee members

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, California
Rep. Don Young, Alaska
Rep. Jeff Denham, California
Rep. Paul Cook, California
Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, American Samoa
Rep. Jack Bergman, Michigan
Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico
Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah
Rep. Ruben Gallego, Arizona
Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Guam
Rep. Gregorio Sablan, Northern Mariana Islands
Rep. Darren Soto, Florida
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Hawaii
Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, New York

You can email the entire committee through the form on their website. If you see your representative on this list, please thank them and let them know that you support statehood!

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