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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Wicker bill filed in US Senate seeks new commonwealth definition, statehood requirements

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago/U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

By The Star Staff

Days after returning from Washington, D.C., Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago announced Thursday the filing of a new congressional bill that includes a new definition of the commonwealth and establishes admission requirements for Puerto Rico to become a state of the union.

Veteran Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced the 98-page measure and opened a new debate on the future of the commonwealth. In addition, Dalmau Santiago said, the legislation refutes arguments about the viability of annexation as an option for Puerto Rico residents. It imposes requirements as a prior step to considering the integration of the island as a state.

The measure includes the definition of the commonwealth presented by Dalmau Santiago last July and establishes that if Puerto Rico becomes a state, Congress will require a super majority of votes, will immediately impose the payment of federal taxes, require a certification of the compliance with debt payment obligations, demand an analysis of the language issue and will demand strict compliance with federal sports law that only recognizes the existence of a single Olympic committee in the United States.

The latter would result in the disappearance of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee, along with the island’s Olympic autonomy and international sports representation.

“With the filing of this bill in the federal Senate, the myths of statehood begin to be dispelled and the people of Puerto Rico are spoken clearly to,” Dalmau Santiago said in a written statement. “This bill presents to the electorate the true consequences of each status formula so that the electorate votes in an informed manner. Furthermore, it includes the definition of the new Commonwealth that we have been promoting since last year, under a modern and robust definition that strengthens and renews the alternative of political autonomy of the Commonwealth.”

The Senate president insisted that with the filing of the new measure, the scenario changes because if Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia tries to convene a local consultation through Executive Order invoking Law 165 of 2020, it provides that the formulas to be presented must respond to the texts of congressional bills that have been filed or approved in one or both bodies of the U.S. Congress.

“The measure that has just been introduced fully complies with that requirement,” Dalmau Santiago said. “Consequently, if the governor wants to call a local consultation, he cannot exclude the Commonwealth because he would be breaking his own law.”

The Senate leader also warned that if Pierluisi attempts to exclude the Commonwealth from the ballot, the Senate will exercise all its constitutional and legal powers to enforce voters’ rights.

The Wicker measure proposes a double-round consultation process, which will allow the alternative that finally wins to have an absolute majority of votes. For those purposes, the first vote would take place on Aug. 4, 2024; and, in it, a ballot with four alternatives would be presented to the electorate: statehood, independence, sovereignty in free association and the free associated state.

In the event that none of the alternatives reaches an absolute majority of votes, that is, 50% plus one of the votes cast, a second round of voting would be held on March 16, 2025, between the two options that have obtained the most significant number of votes in the initial referendum.

Regarding the new free associated state (ELA by its Spanish initials), the Wicker bill incorporates a new definition thereof which expressly includes the text that Dalmau Santiago submitted last July. The ELA will be a political association pact based on four mutually agreed upon pillars:

First, the new commonwealth will be a formal and signed pact that will be permanent and any modification to the relationship will be approved by the people of Puerto Rico through a referendum. Second, under the new commonwealth, the U.S. citizenship of people born in Puerto Rico will be guaranteed and protected; and the rights associated with that citizenship will be equal to the protections and rights of citizens born in the mainland United States.

Third, federal laws and programs will apply to the commonwealth in the same manner as they do now. However, if the Puerto Rico government determines that the enactment of a federal law or a specific provision of a federal statute or regulation modifies or affects the powers recognized to the people of Puerto Rico concerning their self-government, their fiscal autonomy or cultural identity, the government of Puerto Rico may claim an exemption from the application of such regulations, through an accelerated objection and mediation mechanism that will resolve such claims.

“As a fourth point, the act will replace the corresponding provisions of the Federal Relations Law, which will end the indiscriminate application of federal laws that may unilaterally modify the nature of the relationship of political autonomy,” Dalmau Santiago noted. “The commonwealth has been vindicated.”

Regarding statehood, Dalmau Santiago said that in the Wicker bill the immediate payment of federal taxes is confirmed, a super majority is required, the so-called Jibara statehood is ruled out and the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee is eliminated with a stroke of the pen.

Regarding the options for independence and sovereignty in free association, the leader of the island Senate noted that “like the HR 2757 bill, this bill reaffirms that, under both modalities, American citizenship by birth is lost and all federal funds are eliminated in a decade, at a reduction of 10% annually.”

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