The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Wednesday will conduct a public hearing on a bill that would enable Puerto Rico residents to vote on the island’s political status.
Resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, filed the legislation last month. If approved, it would allow Puerto Rico to conduct a referendum asking voters if they prefer the commonwealth to keep its current status as a territory of the U.S. or whether the island should have a different political distinction.
If a majority of the ballots return in favor of changing Puerto Rico’s status, the commonwealth would then hold a second plebiscite where voters could choose to become either an independent nation, a sovereign entity in association with the U.S. — in which case the island would not be considered a territory of the U.S. — or the 51st state in the union.
“Now more than ever before, the atmosphere is conducive to addressing — and resolving — the more than 100-year-old issue of Puerto Rico’s political status,” Pierluisi said in a press release. “It is time that Congress hears the voice of the Puerto Rican people in this matter, and that process is underway,”
The legislation has 127 co-sponsors.
Popular Democratic Party president and House Minority Leader Hector Ferrer said he would attend Wednesday’s hearing to voice his concerns that the current bill does not include an option for commonwealth status. The PDP seeks to keep Puerto Rico a commonwealth within the U.S. but with additional autonomy.
Ferrer said the PDP favors “an enhanced commonwealth that would be based on a new pact with the U.S. based on the sovereignty of the people of Puerto Rico to govern themselves, to [enter into agreements] with other nations and international economic treaties, but under both federal and international law.”
Blake Androff, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, who chairs the committee, said it is not scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday. If the measure passes the committee, it would head to the House floor. The initiative would also need to move through the Senate.