Much of the nation’s news media ignored the Puerto Rico Admissions Bill of 2019, but Vox reported on it. It is good to see the reporting, but we have to take exception to one of the points running through the article.
Vox seems to think that the new admissions bill has a big problem: the vote it suggests will not be binding on Congress. Puerto Rico has voted for statehood twice before, they point out. Congress didn’t admit the territory. Why should things be different this time?
Why should things be different?
Hawaii submitted 18 admissions bills to Congress over a period of 61 years.
Utah submitted 8 bills over 48 years.
It looks like Puerto Rico will be the winner of “Longest Territorial Status,” but Hawaii could have stopped after the 4th bill… or the 14th. “Why should this one be different?” they might have asked. Maybe they did.
But they could also have asked, “Why shouldn’t this one be different?” None of the bills were different until the 18th bill, which was passed and signed into law.
32 territories have already requested admission as states. Sometimes Congress voted “No” on their admission bills. Sometimes Congress ignored their admissions bills entirely. Sometimes Congress agreed, but the president failed to sign the bill.
Every single one of those territories is a state today.
It is in the nature of a plebiscite not to be binding. The word “plebiscite” comes from “decision of the people” in Latin. It is a way for the government to check the opinion of the people. It is not a way to make a direct change to Puerto Rico’s political status. The Constitution doesn’t say that territories can become states if they vote to do so. It says that Congress can admit a territory as a state.
This is why it’s so important to educate and inspire the members of Congress. Make sure your congressperson is on the right side of history. Reach out to your representatives. Ask them to support HR 4901.