By : CB ONLINE STAFF
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee gave the green light Wednesday to Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s status bill, clearing the way for the measure to pass to the full House for a vote.
The bill was cleared in a voice vote among members of the committee, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico issues. It is the second status bill passed by the panel in as many years. The other, a measure co-authored by then-Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño and U.S. Rep. José Serrano, D-N.Y., was blocked from reaching the House floor by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi citing a lack of consensus.
Pierluisi’s 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.
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.
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 Pelosi on the day of a public hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee last month.
The other two stateside representatives who are Puerto Rican –Serrano and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill. – have not signed on to support the measure.
During its voice vote on Wednesday, the committee shot down an amendment proposed by Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., that if Puerto Rico were to become a state English would be the “official language” and that local government business be conducted in English.