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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Members of Congress to visit PR, seek input on status bill

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) (left) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) (right)

By The Star Staff

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee will hold meetings from Thursday to Saturday in Puerto Rico on the draft of proposed legislation that seeks to resolve the ongoing debate over the U.S. island territory’s political status.

Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) will lead a bipartisan group of members of Congress, including Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R-P.R.), to seek input on the draft of the proposed Puerto Rico Status Act.

While Grijalva initially said there would be public hearings, González Colón clarified that there will be meetings with local officials.

On May 19, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced along with other Puerto Rico officials the Puerto Rico Status Act discussion draft legislation, a consensus bill on how to deal with the U.S. commonwealth’s status.

If eventually passed in the U.S. House and Senate, the Puerto Rico Status Act would create and fund a process for Puerto Rico residents to participate in a binding vote to determine the island’s political relationship with the U.S.

The ballot would not include the current commonwealth status, according to the draft. Voters would instead choose between three options: statehood, sovereignty in free association with the U.S., and independence.

Under the legislation, Puerto Ricans would maintain their U.S. citizenship under all options for at least one generation. Those born after Puerto Rico becomes independent or a freely associated state would not be U.S. citizens. If Puerto Rico chooses statehood, the U.S. would begin the process of admitting it as the nation’s 51st state, the draft says. If the island chooses free association, it would be independent but share some agreed-upon functions with the U.S. government. If it chooses independence, it would be a sovereign nation.

The 51-page-long document says a vote would take place on Nov. 5, 2023. If no option earns a majority vote, there would be a runoff election in March 2024.

The draft legislation is a mixture of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act (HR 2070) and the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act (HR 1522).

The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act is sponsored by Velázquez and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.). The bill tried to address the perennial status question by means of a status assembly.

The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act was sponsored by González Colón and Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.). The bill aims for an up or down vote on statehood, following the 2020 territorial plebiscite in which statehood obtained a 52.5 percent majority.

The consensus bill has been criticized by some local officials because it did not include the commonwealth status as an option and because of the citizenship provisions. It also comes in the face of the 2022 midterm elections, and critics believe it will not be passed by Congress.

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