Monday, November 30, 2020

Reps. Velázquez, Ocasio-Cortez introduce Puerto Rico status bill

By on August 25, 2020

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Visualhunt)

SAN JUAN — New York congresswomen Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a bill in Congress to establish a process for Puerto Rico’s self-determination comprising a status convention followed by a referendum on whether to accept or deny the option.

Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, and Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, explained in a joint column for NBC News that the “time to remedy this situation has come, but it must be done correctly. Puerto Rico needs to be afforded the freedom to design its own future. That’s why the two of us, both members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent, have introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2020.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, July 26, 2018. (Screen capture of www.naturalresources.house.gov)

As to why the lawmakers chose a status convention rather than a plebiscite, the bill states that the former “provides a deliberative, comprehensive, and uninterrupted space of dialogue that can define the future of Puerto Rico.”

The bill indicates that the island’s Legislative Assembly will call for a status convention and decide the number of delegates that will participate but the delegates themselves will be chosen through popular vote. These delegates would then produce a draft that would then go to a ratification vote before being sent to Washington, D.C. 

While the bill doesn’t include a provision of Congress having to accept the results of the process, it states that the status assembly may stay operational until Congress ratifies a proposal. 

Along with the status convention, the bill also provides for the creation of Congressional Bilateral Negotiating Commission, which would give assistance and input to the delegates and can also hold hearings on the matter. 

The congressional commission would be made up of the chairperson and ranking members of the Energy and Natural Resources committees of both chambers. The House’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee has oversight of Puerto Rico matters. 

The majority and minority leaders of both chambers would also choose members for the commission—which includes the resident commissioner and a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—that would need congressional approval. 

As for funding, the bill appropriates a matching fund of $5.5 million to be administered by the Puerto Rico State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) for the delegate election campaign and $2.5 million for the referendum. The matching fund would give $4 for every dollar a delegate candidate receives, up to $100 per donation, and the candidate must cap their campaign spending at $25,000. The Federal Elections Commissions would oversee these funds. 

The announcement comes just over two months before the general elections in Puerto Rico as well, when a nonbinding plebiscite—a yes or no vote on the island’s annexation—will be held.  The plebiscite was presented by New Progressive Party (NPP), expecting the DOJ to approve the disbursement of funding Congress allocated in 2014 to be used for a vote on status. 

However, the DOJ denied the request for disbursement, for among other reasons, that that proposal was not submitted in a timely manner and finding it inconsistent with its neutrality policy for its claimed bias toward statehood. 

The status convention has been on the platform or proposals of the Popular Democratic Party, the Puerto Rican Independence Party and the new Citizens Victory Movement. However, the NPP has been a proponent of the plebiscites and has campaigned for congressional recognition of previous electoral events that have favored statehood.

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