Rep. Raul Grijalva has held one hearing on HR 1522, The Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act. He has said that he intends to hold another hearing, but he wants first to get a ruling from the Department of Justice on whether HR 1522 and a competing bill, HR 2070, present any conflicts with the U.S. Constitution.
We believe that HR 2070 offers a number of conflicts with the Constitution. It requires consideration of “enhanced commonwealth” options which have already been declared unconstitutional by every branch of the federal government. It sets a spending cap on political campaigns. It calls for a congressional committee to make recommendations on language and culture to Puerto Rico. It lays out special rules for Congress and declares that Congress will vote to ratify voters’ choices, something that Congress obviously cannot be forced to do. It would require changes to a number of laws without input from the appropriate congressional committees.
However, HR 1522 offers none of these conflicts. It uses the same process Hawaii and Alaska used to become states in 1959. It has been vetted by multiple constitutional scholars.
The purpose of HR 2070 is to delay the admission of Puerto Rico as a state. It presents a multi-year process which ignores the 2020 vote for statehood, as well as the 2012 and 2017 votes. It does not have the support of Puerto Rico’s elected representatives. It also has so many complex and quirky requirements that it could not be passed as is.
Should mark up for HR 1522 have to wait for the DOJ to work its way through the thorny thicket of HR 2070?
What’s a mark up?
When a bill is proposed in Congress, it is often sent to a committee. Congress has a lot of committees, with members who know about the specific subject matter of the committee. That allows the congresspeople who are best qualified to look at laws and advise the rest of Congress.
For example, the congressional committee in charge of Puerto Rico is the Committee on Natural Resources. Within this committee is the Office of Insular Affairs. “Insular” means having to do with islands, and this group is in charge of island territories like Puerto Rico.
When legislation like HR 1522 comes up, it will generally go to the Committee on Natural Resources. The experts on this committee will consider the legislation and decide whether Congress should vote on it.
One of the first steps is to hold one or more public hearings. Natural Resources has already held one day of hearings, and plans to hold another once the Department of Justice has ruled on the constitutionality of HR 1522 and HR 2070.
After hearings comes the most important step for the committee: mark up.
Mark up means that the committee gets together and debates the details of the law, makes changes where needed, and in some cases rewrites the bill or parts of the bill. They get the legislation ready to go to Congress for a vote on the floor.
In 1996, a status bill for Puerto Rico went to Congress with this recommendation:
The Committee on Resources, to whom was referred the bill
(H.R. 3024) to provide a process leading to full self-
government for Puerto Rico, having considered the same, report
favorably thereon with an amendment and recommend that the bill
as amended do pass.
Why are we waiting?
There might be another day of hearings on the two Puerto Rico status bills. However, mark up of HR 1522 doesn’t need to wait. The Blog for Arizona says “Rep. Grijalva Should Mark Up The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act,” and we agree.
They quoted an article by Matt Helder and Jose Cabrera saying, “Denial of the popular will is exactly what some members of Congress seem intent on doing when it comes to listening to Puerto Rican voters. Unlike the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, sponsored by a wide bipartisan coalition of lawmakers – including the lone representative from Puerto Rico – the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act has been introduced by members of Congress that, between all of them combined, received zero votes from residents of Puerto Rico.”
The Blog for Arizona went on to say, “The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act is the traditional means to statehood. If it was good enough for Alaska and Hawaii, it should be good enough for Puerto Rico. ‘Self-determination’ means that the people of Puerto Rico decide (and they already have).”
The Committee on Natural Resources should go ahead and mark up HR 1522 while waiting to hear what the Department of Justice says about HR 2070. Tell Rep. Grijalva what you think about this.