PR Senate president spells out demands for status legislation to Congress
By The Star Staff
As he had anticipated he would do a few weeks ago, Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago formally demanded that Congress include a new definition of the commonwealth status that would broaden the self-governing powers of the people of Puerto Rico.
“Earlier this year, members of Congress introduced a bill that seeks to address Puerto Rico’s political status in an unfair and undemocratic manner,” Dalmau Santiago said in a letter to various congressional leaders. “Said legislation, HR 2757, is designed to create an artificial majority in favor of statehood, excluding the Commonwealth status and depriving its supporters of voting for their preferred status.”
The PDP leader said any status bill must include in the definition of statehood: the costs of statehood, the effect of federal taxes on debt payment obligations, and the loss of Olympic athletics representation and cultural identity.
In the letter, Dalmau Santiago established what he characterized as five substantive and procedural criteria that any congressional bill to address the status issue must contain.
The Senate president’s letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Appeals Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sens. Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Dalmau Santiago sent the letter to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Appeals Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and GT Thompson (R-Pa.). The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leader said the new effort will include visits to the U.S. capital and a push for inclusive language in various congressional offices.
The PDP leader added that the “status bill HR 2757 intentionally seeks to disenfranchise supporters of the current status in Puerto Rico.”
“Worse yet, this measure seeks to impose a mechanism for self-enforcement of the results in Congress, while hiding from voters the harmful effects that a change of status toward statehood would cause to Puerto Rico and the United States,” Dalmau Santiago said in his letter.
HR 2757 does not include relevant information or economic analysis on the transition process for a status change, he insisted.
“It ignores the devastating effects of integrating the federal Internal Revenue Code into the island’s economy, which would undermine our industrial sector, representing half of the island’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” the island Senate leader wrote.
Dalmau Santiago said the bill sponsored by the New Progressive Party “ignores the impact that a default on the payment obligations of the recently restructured public debt would probably create due to the elimination of our existing tax code.”
“Also, there is no reference to issues important to Puerto Ricans, such as the permanence of our Spanish language, our proud cultural heritage, and the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee,” he wrote.
For those purposes, the Senate president demanded from the congressional leadership that any consultation process on the final destiny of the island must rely on five guiding principles.
First: All federal legislation to be considered must be consistent with the requirements established in Public Law 113-76 (PL113-76), the Consolidated Appropriations Law of 2014, which establishes that each status alternative must be previously submitted to the Department of Justice of the United States (DOJ) for its evaluation and validation.
Second: The same DOJ review process must be followed for educational materials, ballots, and the use of the $2.5 million allocated for future consultation.
Third: HR 2757 should be dropped and instead, Senate Bill 4560, introduced last year by Wicker, should be used as a starting point. That bill includes all the status alternatives, corrects the deficiencies of HR 2757, and establishes a fair and organized process for the different options.
Fourth: The issue of the imminent loss of U.S. citizenship by birth under the options of independence and free association must be clearly stated in the text of the legislation, and under no circumstances must there be confusing or manipulated language that attempts to misrepresent that birthright U.S. citizenship is possible if Puerto Rico becomes a sovereign country. The same clarity and certainty must be included in the elimination of federal funds under both modalities of independence.
Fifth: The statehood option must clearly state that the payment of federal tax contributions will be applied in the same way as in the rest of the states and that an indefinite transition process -- in which Puerto Rico becomes a state of the Union with proportional representation but without the application of the Internal Revenue Code -- is not possible.”
Dalmau Santiago announced that soon he will be traveling to Washington, D.C. for meetings on the status issue, as well as on health and education issues, and to promote the creation of a new incentive for manufacturing.