Senator Martin Heinrich (D) of New Mexico introduced the Puerto Rico Status Act (PRSA) on November 8, bringing new attention to the issue.
Heinrich, who has long advocated for Puerto Rico to be given the chance to determine its status, introduced the bill, S 3231, as a companion to the version in the House of Representatives, HR 2757, during a press conference with senators, representatives, and Governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) of Puerto Rico.
The PRSA would establish a plebiscite to allow Puerto Ricans to determine their own political status. The options would be statehood, independence, or sovereignty in free association with the United States. Unlike a similar version introduced by Senator Roger Wicker (R) of Mississippi in September, there would be no option to maintain Puerto Rico’s status as a territory. Other provisions include funding a voter education timeline, funding the plebiscite and ballot process, and laying out the process to transition the island’s status.
During the press conference, Heinrich said, “All of us who care about the island’s future status agree that the Puerto Rico Status Act is the best path forward for Puerto Ricans to determine their own political future. It’s been more than 100 years since Puerto Rican residents became US citizens. Americans living in Puerto Rico deserve an overdue, permanent, and democratic answer on their political status.”
Pierluisi thanked Heinrich, emphasizing that the cosponsors of the Senate version “decided to be on the right side of history and answer the call to provide full democracy to the more than 3.2 million American citizens in Puerto Rico in accordance with the US Constitution.” Pierluisi continued, “Today, we continue making strides in our path forward towards fulfilling the democratic values upon which our nation was founded, which must be available to all of its citizens.”
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (NPP, R) highlighted her work in the House, noting, “We are doing this fight because the people of Puerto Rico already decided this three times in a row, asking for equality. This does represent a sincere and monumental effort to finally recognize the island and end over 100 years of inequality and second-class citizenship.”
A similar version of the bill, HR 8393, passed the House with the support of Democrats and Republicans last year. The Senate never took up the bill before the 117th Congress ended on January 3, killing the bill. González-Colón reintroduced the bill this April, though it faces more hurdles with a Republican-controlled House and the 2024 election nearing. The House’s version has sat in committee since May 8. Still, González-Colón has worked in the last few weeks to add new Republican cosponsors to the bill, adding six since October 26 to reach 12 Republican cosponsors. In contrast, 76 Democrats are cosponsors of the bill. So far, Heinrich’s Senate version has 20 cosponsors, all Democrats or Democrat-caucusing Senators.
Shadow Senator Zoraida Buxó (I) echoed González-Colón, saying, “It is hard to believe that Congress has allowed these United States to hold for such a long time, an embarrassing state of political segregation for 3.2 million fellow American citizens. Until the people of Puerto Rico can remove the word ‘shadow’ from the title ‘US Senator’ and have two voting members join this body politic, we need some of that individual goodwill of each of you to successfully bring this ship to port.”