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51 organizations call on House panel to move on Puerto Rico statehood

A coalition of 51 organizations on Wednesday called for the House Natural Resources Committee to move forward a bill for a yes or no vote on Puerto Rico statehood. 

In a letter to committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and ranking member Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene Westerman51 organizations call on House panel to move on Puerto Rico statehood Interior recommends imposing higher costs for public lands drilling Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — What a leading biologist says will save humans MORE (R-Ark.), the groups asked for the panel to mark up the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act proposed by Rep. Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoProtecting seniors from guardianship fraud and abuse Florida Democrats call on DeSantis to accept federal help to expand COVID-19 testing Sixteen Hispanic House Democrats ask EPA for tougher methane rule MORE (D-Fla.). 

"After more than a century of uncertainty, it is time for Congress to stop delaying and take action to definitively resolve Puerto Rico’s unequal and undemocratic territory status," the groups wrote.

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The debate over Puerto Rico's status took a foothold in Washington during the Trump administration, fueled in part by institutional deficiencies that hampered the federal response to Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017.

The issue, long central to Puerto Rico's politics, was a defining one for the 2016 elections on the island. 

But the pandemic and political climate surrounding the 2020 election and legislative wrangling over President BidenJoe BidenFox News reporter says Biden called him after 'son of a b----' remark Peloton responds after another TV character has a heart attack on one of its bikes Defense & National Security — Pentagon puts 8,500 troops on high alert MORE's spending packages pulled Capitol Hill's attention elsewhere, despite the existence of two competing bills to address the territory's status. 

Grijalva in April and June of this year held hearings where witnesses discussed both bills, Soto's yes/no proposal, and the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act proposed by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), which would create a convention to explore the different status possibilities available to Puerto Rico. 

Statehood proponents for the most part want to see Soto's bill implemented, arguing that 52 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood in the latest referendum in 2020, and that the simpler proposal is constitutionally viable, as it mimics the statehood processes used to admit Alaska and Hawaii. 

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“Over a year ago, the people of Puerto Rico voted in favor of statehood for the island. We are calling on Congress to listen to and respect the will of the majority of Puerto Rico’s voters by passing the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act," said George Laws García, executive director of the Puerto Rico Statehood Council. 

The issue is deeply divisive among Puerto Ricans, and opponents of statehood say Velázquez's bill is the only one that would be inclusive of all political positions, whether pro-statehood, pro-independence, pro-territory, or alternate proposals.

A Department of Justice analysis of the bills found that the only constitutionally viable alternatives to the current status are statehood or independence, with or without a pact of free association. 

The United States currently has pacts of free association with three small Pacific island states — the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau — all of which were under U.S. control after World War II and sought independence later in the 20th century.

Free association allows for certain U.S. social programs to be implemented in those countries, but does not give their residents U.S. citizenship, a right Puerto Ricans do have.

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In their letter, the groups say they are open to a compromise bill that would allow Puerto Rican voters to choose between statehood, full independence and free association. 

"What makes sense at this point is for the Committee to either immediately hold a markup vote on [the statehood bill], or to quickly submit and markup a consensus bill that offers Puerto Rico voters a direct and implementable choice on statehood and the other constitutionally viable non-territory option which is independence or independence with a pact of free association," they wrote.