By: Alexa Garcia, 2L
Congress is currently considering two bills that involve Puerto Rican statehood: the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act and the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021.
The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act was proposed by Florida Representative Darren Soto (D) and Puerto Rico’s nonvoting Representative Jenniffer González Colón (R). The bill consists of a direct path to statehood, where Puerto Rican citizens would have the ability to cast a federally binding “yes” or “no” vote on statehood. While Puerto Rico has held similar referendums in the past, none of them have been federally binding.
Introduced in the House on March 2, 2021, the bill provides a process to statehood similar to that taken by Alaska and Hawaii—a process backed by Florida democrats and also at a bipartisan level in the House. The pro-statehood bill currently has 58 co-sponsors, consisting of 13 Republicans and 45 Democrats. A version of this bill has also been introduced in the Senate.
The bill will be heard in the House’s Natural Resources Committee on April 14, 2021, but it will not be alone on the floor—The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act will also receive a full hearing on that day.
New York Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) and Nydia Velazquez (D) introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act on March 18, 2021. New Jersey Representative Bob Mendez (D) also introduced the bill in the Senate.
The bill would entail the creation of a status convention made up of elected Puerto Rican delegates. The convention would consider political status options, which would then be voted on in a special referendum. The U.S. Congress would then ratify the selected status option and put it into place.
While each bill has individually garnered support, the critics have also spoken. The Soto pro-statehood bill has been challenged by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has questioned the consensus on statehood. On the other end of the aisle, the status conventions delineated in the Ocasio bill have been rendered “delay tactics” that would only enhance the economic challenges plaguing the island. It has also been called a “ploy to undermine Puerto Rico’s admission to the union” by Puerto Rico’s current governor.
The bills are being introduced at a timely moment for Puerto Rico: In the wake of Hurricane Maria, island-rocking earthquakes, large budget cuts, and Covid-19, the island nation seeks a final answer on statehood—a possible solution to Puerto Rico’s economic strife, and an end to decades-old colonial rule.