Status Legislation Has Strong Bi-Partisan Support, Needs More
Chairman of the U.S House Committee on Natural Resources Nick Rahall (D-WV), Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-PR), and bill sponsor Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) speak following the Committee's approval of H.R. 900 - the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 - legislation that will provide a self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico.
(May 27, 2008) The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 (H.R. 900) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of the 110th Congress in February, 2007 by Representative José Serrano (D-New York) and has enjoyed very significant bi-partisan support but additional opportunity for more House members to support the legislation remains. Corresponding legislation in the U.S. Senate (S.1936) introduced by Senator Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) is in a similar position. The House bill passed out of committee in October of last year but a full vote by the House of Representatives has yet to be scheduled.
41 States Represented by Puerto Rico Democracy Act Supporters
Seventy-four (74) Democrats and fifty-six (56) Republicans in the House of Representatives, for a total of 130 sponsors representing forty (40) states are supporting the legislation to date. Fifteen Senators; nine (9) Democrats and (six (6) Republicans representing 12 states have sponsored S.1936; including both Senators from each of Florida, Hawaii and Nebraska, bringing the total of represented states to 41. Senate Supporters of Puerto Rico Democracy Act by State
A majority of the delegations from 11 states are supporting the legislation; including Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. The legislation would allow Puerto Rican voters a direct individual vote for their status preference. Puerto Rico delegate Luis Fortuno and Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida were initial sponsors of similar legislation; the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2006, in the House and Senate in the 109th Congress.
Competing legislation sponsored by Statehood opponents that would force Puerto Ricans to delegate their individual votes to an electoral representative at an island-based constitutional convention has failed to garner any significant support in the House. Introduced by Velasquez of New York the legislation would not permit Puerto Ricans a direct single-person vote on their preferred status choice from defined constitutionally-viable options as outlined by Congress.
Legislation Would Give Puerto Ricans Chance for Equality, End Unrepresentative Limbo
H.R. 900 would provide for status referendums to be held in Puerto Rico "To provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico". This would be the first time that the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. has sanctioned a referendum by Puerto Ricans on Puerto Rico's status. If the legislation is successful, a first referendum would be held no later than December 31, 2009, and would allow Puerto Ricans a choice between the options of " 1)continue to have its present form of territorial status and relationship with the United States or (2) pursue a constitutionally-viable permanent non-territorial status." If the former option were to win, the referendum would be held again every 8 years.
Second Stage of Process Allows Choice for Independence, Statehood
If the latter option were to win a majority, a separate second referendum would follow no later than December 31, 2011. In this referendum, Puerto Ricans would be given the option of being admitted as a U.S. State "on equal footing with the other states," or becoming a "sovereign nation, either fully independent from or in free association with the United States." Whether Puerto Ricans choose statehood, independence, or free association, Congress would have 6 months to act on the wishes of the Puerto Rican people as expressed by their freely exercised votes. A simple majority of the states in Congress must vote to ratify adding a new state to the union. The last state to join the union was Hawaii in 1959 which followed Alaska which joined the union in 1958. Oklahoma was an unrepresented U.S. territory for 104 years. Only Puerto Rico has been an unrepresented territory at 109 years.
Statehood Guarantees Equality in Congressional Voting Rights, Representation, Citizenship
Statehood is the only option that will allow Puerto Rico to have full representation with voting rights in Congress, constitutionally-guaranteed United States citizenship and equal treatment and opportunity in relation to federal government relations and economic opportunity. Under the current status, Congress retains authority and jurisdiction over Puerto Rico without the island having sovereign voting representation in Congress.