The Puerto Rico Status Act, which seeks to clarify its territorial status and relationship with the United States through a federally binding popular vote, was reinstated in the House of Representatives Thursday.
Although the House of Representatives passed the law in December, the Senate never scheduled a plenary vote on it, effectively restarting the process of a new Congress approving the law.
The original sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives said at a news conference Thursday that they hope to garner more support from Senators and Republicans in the House of Representatives.
The bill sets out the terms of the plebiscite, or vote, in which Puerto Ricans living on U.S. territory can choose between three non-territorial status options: statehood, independence, and sovereignty in free association with the U.S. — except for the island’s current territorial status as one of the options for the first time.
“The current territorial status cannot be part of the solution. In fact, he’s part of the problem, and that’s why this bill is so important,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican non-voting member of Congress who represents Puerto Rico’s sponsorship of the bill. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, DN.M., former chair of the House Natural Resources Committee – which oversees U.S. Territory affairs – is the lead sponsor.
The bill would also provide a framework for transition to the new status; it was changed to November 2025.
The Puerto Rico Status Act was a compromise between members of Congress who had previously sponsored competing bills.
It combined elements of two bills: a pro-statehood bill introduced by González and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., and the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, which proposed a mechanism for selecting delegates to an upcoming “status convention” with solutions for Puerto Rico’s Future sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez, both New York Democrats.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who was the House Majority Leader last year, helped lead a month-long effort to get lawmakers on opposite sides of the status debate to unite under a bill.
“We passionately agree that America should not be a colonial power,” he said at the press conference.
Puerto Rico has been under US control since 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Congress and the federal government have since been permitted to treat Puerto Rico as a foreign country for domestic purposes and as a state for international purposes.
This became clear in 2015 during the Obama administration when Puerto Rico declared it was unable to pay its $70 billion federal debt, prompting Congress to create the Promesa Act of 2016, since US laws exempted Puerto Rico from the federal bankruptcy law.
Promesa established the Federal Treasury, which oversees Puerto Rico’s tax responsibilities, and created a mechanism for the territory to restructure its debt in federal court.
The Puerto Rico government officially ended a form of bankruptcy in March, six years after the board’s establishment, prompting widely criticized austerity measures on an island that paid $1 billion in consultant and attorney fees and other expenses during the process .
Puerto Ricans living on the island have been US citizens for over a century. They can be drafted and serve in the US military, but cannot vote for President unless they live on the mainland.
Puerto Rico residents pay no federal income taxes because they do not have voting representation in Congress. But they pay payroll taxes and help fund federal programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Earned Income Tax Credit. Puerto Rico has limited or no access to these federal programs, which may serve as lifelines in an area where more than 40% of the population lives in poverty.
“Puerto Rico is the responsibility of Congress,” González said. “It’s Congress that needs to offer what options are available to people on the island.”
During Thursday’s news conference, Velázquez called on Republicans to take action to end this “unjust political limbo” on the bill after House Democrats unanimously voted in favor of the Puerto Rico Status Act and the White House pledged its support.
The Republican leadership has a responsibility to the people of Puerto Rico to “provide a fair opportunity to schedule a hearing and to listen to everyone, the experts and the stakeholders,” said Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress.
The House of Representatives passed the measure in December by a vote of 233 to 191. All no votes came from Republicans; 16 GOP members joined 217 Democrats to approve the bill. But half of the 16 Republicans who backed the bill did not return to the Republican-controlled House. In the Senate, Democrats lack the votes to overcome a filibuster.
The vote in the House Natural Resources Committee is required before the bill can vote in the second House of Representatives this year.
The committee is chaired by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who voted against the Puerto Rico Status Act in the December plenary session, calling for “allowing a full and robust legislative process to take place.”
Grijalva said they would soon contact Westerman to request a Puerto Rico Status Act hearing.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said he will join González in a meeting with Westerman later Thursday to discuss any concerns he may have about the bill.
Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition made up primarily of organizations in the states working on behalf of Puerto Ricans on the island, last month sent a letter to committee chairs urging them to “hold public hearings with adequate notice and To provide simultaneous translation into Puerto Rican Spanish, DC and Puerto Rico, to carefully consider this critical issue.”
It also asked to clarify whether Spanish would remain the dominant language of Puerto Rico’s public affairs and what would happen to the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee depending on elected status, arguing that they were both integral parts of the Puerto Rican culture and national identity are.
In addition, the organization requested clarification and details on how Puerto Rico’s federal tax status would change under a different territorial status.
Luis Ponce Ruiz of Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora, which is part of the coalition, said in a statement that while the group welcomes the reintroduction of the bill, it “repeats some of the same flaws of the 2022 version”.
“Our organization will continue to meet with the House and Senate offices to express our concerns about this legislation,” Ponce Ruiz said, adding his group will “proclaim sovereignty as the only just and politically realistic solution for… promote the colonial status of Puerto Rico.”
Places like Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands have sovereignty with free association with the US. These are technically independent nations bound to the US by a treaty covering diplomatic, military, and economic relations.