Steny Hoyer held a press conference yesterday with representatives of both the status bills that were introduced.
“Puerto Rican people do not want to be a colony,” he said, “and the American people do not want to be a colonial power.”
The press conference announced the presentation of the Discussion Draft of the bill.
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Governor Pedro Pierluisi, Reps. Nydia Velazquez, Raul Grijalva, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were among the speakers at the event.
The discussion draft
The Discussion draft is called “The Puerto Rico Status Act.” It begins with this statement of findings:
In recognition of the inherent limitations of Puerto Rico’s territorial status, and the responsibility of the Federal Government to enable the people of the territory to freely express their wishes regarding political status and achieve full self-government, Congress seeks to enable the eligible voters of Puerto Rico to choose a permanent, non- territorial, fully self-governing political status for Puerto Rico and to provide for a transition to and the implementation of said permanent, nonterritorial, fully self-governing status.
“It is fair, it is reasonable, it is pragmatic, and it does what it needs to do,” said Governor Pierluisi of the compromise bill. “November 5th, 2023, will be the beginning of the end of the current territorial status.”
The bill calls for yet another plebiscite, to be held on November 5, 2023, with three options:
- sovereign free association
The winning option must have a majority — that is, over 50% of the vote — not just a plurality. If all three options were to received one third of the vote, none of them would be counted a winner. The bill calls for a run-off vote between the top two options if no status choice gets a majority of votes in the first round.
Some of the most important provisions of the bill:
- People with U.S. citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico can keep their citizenship under all three options. Under independence, people born in Puerto Rico after independence is declared will no longer have birthright U.S. citizenship. Under free association, “people born in Puerto Rico to parents both of whom are United States citizens shall be eligible to acquire United States citizenship for the duration of the first agreement of the Articles of Free Association.” The mechanism of this acquisition of citizenship will have to be part of the treaty.
- Free association will involve a treaty between the two nations which must be agreed to by both, and can be ended by either at any time.
- Statehood will be on an equal footing with the current 50 states. The U.S. Constitution will apply fully and U.S. citizenship will be the same for people born in Puerto Rico as in all other states.
- An education campaign will be undertaken in “traditional paid media” and educational materials will be available at all polling places. These materials will cover the issues for each status option of taxation, international representation, citizenship and immigration, and access and treatment under federal laws and programs. The materials will be in Spanish and in English.
- PROMESA will no longer apply as soon as Puerto Rico becomes a nation or a state, and the PROMESA board will be terminated.
Questions at the press conference
Many questions were presented at the end of the press conference. One speaker said that statehood and independence were clear, but free association was another matter. Would the terms of the Compact of Free Association be known before the vote?
“The COFA will have to be negotiated between two sovereign nations, Puerto Rico and the United States of America,” Hoyer explained. It is not possible to know the terms of that treaty before the new referendum. He emphasized the points of agreement between the proponents of the two previous status bills, HR 1522 and HR 2070. “Colonial status is not acceptable and Puerto Rican people should control the process.”
In the face of questions about the various positions on status, Hoyer continued to focus on the points of consensus. “Does the United States want to be a political power? That is a No. That is an emphatic No.”
“The Department of Justice will oversee the education process,” said Pierluisi in response to a question on the involvement of the DOJ.
There were also questions on whether any action would really be taken. “We all are skeptical,” said Velazquez, “but there is a very strong message.” She also made the point that people living in the states will need to communicate with their congressional representatives and senators to get the compromise bill passed in Congress.
Rep. Gonzalez-Colon pointed out that this is the first time a status bill for Puerto Rico will be self-executing. Congress has failed to take action on the six plebiscites that have already been conducted, so this will be different. “The status quo is unsustainable, and until it is addressed, Puerto Rico’s economy and social development will continue to lag.”
“Making a compromise is tough,” Hoyer acknowledged. He emphasized that people on all sides worked hard together to create the compromise bill.