The Puerto Rico Status Act, a compromise bill intended to satisfy all sides of the status question represented in Congress, now has 93 cosponsors. One of them, who was also one of the people who developed the compromise bill, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, told NBC News,”There will never be a perfect bill, but members with opposite views can come together to craft a bill,” she said. “If members of Congress believe in upholding the U.S. constitutional values and that we shouldn’t be a colonizing nation, then I do believe there is consensus to get the current Puerto Rico status changed.”

The Puerto Rico Status Act is not a perfect bill. It passed the House in 2022 and was reintroduced in the House with a companion bill in the Senate in 2023. Still, there are concerns from multiple sides of the issue, and it might require significant changes to become law.

Nonetheless, it is an excellent start. Its progress in both houses of Congress shows not only the efficacy of statehood advocacy in this century, but also that we are closer to statehood than ever before.

What’s great about the Puerto Rico Status Act?

All options are constitutionally viable

In past plebiscites, there have been choices that are not actually possible under the U.S. Constitution. Most important of these is the “enhanced commonwealth,” an imaginary political status which has been rejected by all three branches of the federal government. The traditional definition of this status calls for Puerto Rico to be able to pick and choose which federal laws to follow, to form treaties with foreign governments on its own, and to receive all the benefits of U.S. citizenship with few of the responsibilities.

Puerto Rico voters may choose this option, and have in the past, but it is impossible under the Constitution. It cannot therefore come to pass, even if everyone voted for it.

Another item which was not only on one of the plebiscite ballots but actually won, is “None of the above.” Congress has no clear path to implement “none of the above.”

The Puerto Rico Status Act, on the other hand, offers three choices, all of which are legally possible:

  • statehood
  • independence
  • sovereign free association

It is important that voters understand that free association is a form of independence, just as the current “commonwealth” status is simply another way of saying  “territory.” But all three of these status options can exist under the U.S. Constitution.

The bill is self-executing

Three times Puerto Rico has voted for statehood, and yet Congress has not admitted Puerto Rico as a state. The Puerto Rico status act requires Congress to offer Puerto Rico a choice among options acceptable to Congress, and then to act on the vote. If Puerto Rico votes agains for statehood, Puerto Rico will become a state.

This is a very important difference from previous status votes.

Plebiscites are, in general, a way of taking the temperature of a population. They are not usually legally binding. However, the vote called for the Puerto Rico Status Act would be. For the first time, Congress would be committed to acting on the results of the referendum.

Voter education

With decades of confusion over Puerto Rico’s status and many questions about the definition of sovereign free association in the bill, it is essential that all the information about the Puerto Rico Status Act be explained clearly and evenhandedly to Puerto Rico voters before the final referendum is held.

The Puerto Rico Status Act includes a detailed plan for accomplishing this.

It may not be a perfect bill, and it may be amended before it becomes law, but the Puerto Rico Status Act is our best chance of resolving the question of Puerto Rico’s political status once and for all. Contact your representatives and let them know that this is an important issue for you.



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