By CB Online Staff
The House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico issues, held a public hearing on the bill last month that included testimony from statehood supporting Gov. Luis Fortuño, commonwealth backing Popular Democratic Party President Héctor Ferrer and Puerto Rican Independence Party President Rubén Berríos, among others of all status stripes.
The committee will vote on Pierluisi’s HR 2499 next Wednesday, which could clear the way for the status measure to go to the full House and then the Senate.
“If the bill gets the go ahead from the committee as expected, then we would be ready to bring it to the full House,” Pierluisi said during a press conference.
The four-page HR-2499, also known as the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, authorizes the island government to hold a referendum in which voters will choose whether they think Puerto Rico should continue its current status. If voters choose that Puerto Rico keep the same status, then the local government is authorized to hold a vote every eight years to determine if public opinion has changed.
If voters say they want a change in status, then a second vote would be held in which voters can choose between statehood, independence and a third option of sovereignty in association with the United States that is not subject to the territorial clause.
The commonwealth supporting Popular Democratic Party is staunchly against the bill, arguing it is skewed toward statehood. The Puerto Rican Independence Party has argued that the lack of consensus on the mechanism to resolve status among island political parties has doomed Pierluisi’s bill to failure.
Pierluisi, a member of the statehood supporting New Progressive Party and a national Democrat, filed the bill in May with 86 co-sponsors in the House. That number has since swelled.
The bill faced a potential set back when U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y. – one of three stateside Puerto Rican members of Congress – blasted the measure in a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the day of the hearing last month.
The other two stateside representatives who are Puerto Rican – Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill. – have not signed on to support the measure.
Pelosi has said that status legislation needs “consensus” among Puerto Rican Democrats in the House in order to move forward.
President Barack Obama has said he supports resolving the island’s status dilemma during his first term in office.