The Puerto Rico Status Act is now under consideration in both the House and the Senate. In case you haven’t been following along, here’s your chance to catch up.
The history of the Puerto Rico Status Act
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. As such, it does not have the full protection of the U.S. Constitution. It doesn’t have equality with the states — and that means that the people living in Puerto Rico do not have equal rights with their fellow Americans who live in states. U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections, and territory status creates social and economic problems for the Island.
Like many other U.S. territories, Puerto Rico has had quite a few statehood bills that have not become law.
In 2020, the Island had a statehood admissions bill in Congress and a referendum on statehood scheduled for November (statehood won). Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, the Congressional representative for Puerto Rico, had introduced the statehood bill. Representatives from New York introduced their own status bill, calling for a lengthy and complicated Constitutional Convention to consider all conceivable status options, potentially including some that had been rejected by Congress as unconstitutional. This bill distracted Congress and once again they took no action on Puerto Rico’s status.
The sponsors of the two bills got together with many other leaders and members of the community and created a new, compromise bill. That was the first Puerto Rico Status Act. It gave voters a choice among three political status options: statehood, independence, and “sovereign free association.” It did not include the option of remaining a territory, since that possibility had been voted down in 2012. It also did not contain the “enhanced commonwealth” option, because that has been discredited as “not a viable option” by all three branches of the federal government.
The House passed the compromise bill in 2022, but it was too late in the year to make it through the Senate, and the term of that Congress ended with no further action.
Companion bills introduced
The Puerto Rico Status Act was reintroduced in the house as HR2757 in 2023. Later in the year, the Senate companion bill, S3231, was introduced in the Senate. The two bills are the same and have the same name.
In both cases, the Puerto Rico Status Act calls for one more referendum in Puerto Rico. This will be the first federally-sponsored plebiscite, though Puerto Rico has had six status votes over the years. All the previous votes have been non-binding. That is, Congress didn’t have to take action on the votes. That is normal for a plebiscite.
The Puerto Rico Status Act, however, requires Congress to commit to respect the outcome of the vote. For many years, leaders have called for Congress to tell Puerto Rico which options it would approve and to allow voters to choose from among those options. This bill will be the first time that has ever happened. Congress will have to agree that it is willing to follow through on any of the options on the ballot.
The Puerto Rico Status Act defines all three options clearly. There may be changes to the language before the bills are passed, but this will be a vote which includes all and only the status options Congress is willing to accept. The decision will then be up to the voters of Puerto Rico. One thing is certain: if the Puerto Rico Status Act becomes law, Puerto Rico will no longer be a colony of the United States.
Both bills have bilateral support. Please ask your representatives to support these bills and end the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.