HOUSE COMMITTEE PAVES WAY FOR PUERTO RICO SELF-DETERMINATION
30-8 Bipartisan Vote Overwhelms Opponents
(July 22, 2009) By a vote of 30-8, the Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, overwhelmingly passed legislation (H.R. 2499 - The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009) to give congressional sanction to an island plebiscite on Puerto Rico's status for the first time in American history. The Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico affairs in the United States Congress in Washington, D.C..
Bilingual Ballot Measure Included
The committee considered four amendments during the mark-up of the bill. The two successful amendments provide that bilingual ballots will be provided during the plebiscites and that the costs of the plebiscites will be the responsibility of the government of Puerto Rico. Rep. Henry E. Brown (R-SC) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) respectively introduced the amendments. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), the sponsor of the bill, accepted both amendments, noting that bilingual ballots were used in Puerto Rico's 2008 general election and the committee members unanimously concurred.
At podium - Rep. Larry Grayson (D-FL) of Orlando speaks at the introduction of HR 2499 on May 19, 2009.
From left - Representatives Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) of Miami and Dan Burton (R-IN) of Indianapolis
Wedge Amendments Fail
The committee rejected two other amendments from Chaffetz and Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA). The defeated Chaffetz amendment would have required a two-thirds supermajority threshold for any option chosen by Puerto Rico voters to be valid and accepted by the Congress once the plebiscites are concluded. Resident Commissioner Pierluisi rejected the amendment as "premature" and "anti-democratic" in that it pre-supposed the outcome of a clear and neutral process. A clear majority of the committee agreed and voted to defeat the amendment.
The committee also rejected Broun's amendment to make English Puerto Rico's only official language if Puerto Ricans choose statehood from among sovereign options in the second plebiscite described in the legislation. English and Spanish are already the official languages of the U.S. territory. Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner rejected the amendment as premature and irrelevant as the legislation seeks to provide congressional sanction to a neutral process of self-determination for voters in the island territory. Mr. Pierluisi also pointed to the fact that Puerto Rico has been officially bilingual since 1902 and that the Puerto Rican legislature reaffirmed that commitment in 1993. A majority of the committee agreed with Mr. Pierluisi and soundly rejected the amendment.
A hearing on the legislation was held on June 24 during which island political leaders gave testimony in favor and against the legislation. The Council provided a Statement for the Congressional Record in support of the self-determination objectives of the bill. The bill must now be brought to the House floor by the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives for final passage.
To urge your congressional representatives to support H.R. 2499 call Congress at (202) 224-3121.
To identify your congressional representative please visit the Council's webpages at