Washington - House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva said the bill seeking to create a Congressional task force to analyze the reasons for territories’ residents not to participate in the federal government will not close the door to a debate in his committee on Puerto Rico’s political future.
Although the House passed the bill on March 8, 2019 -last Congress-, it never advanced in the Senate, which may happen again.
Still, this measure, House Bill “1” - which primarily pushes for U.S. election reform - is a high priority for Democrats, Grijalva said. These electoral reforms would include changes to the voter registration process.
“The bill includes a provision to recommend changes that would allow full and equal voting rights for U.S. citizens living in U.S. territories. The Democratic Caucus, including the Democratic delegates and myself, support this proposal,” Grijalva said in response to questions from El Nuevo Dia.
The Task Force would be tasked with recommending changes toward the full participation of residents of the territories in federal elections, including representation in Congress. The Task Force should examine “the economic and societal consequences (through statistical data and other metrics) that come with political disenfranchisement of United States citizens in territories of the United States.”
Under this legislation, House leaders would have to appoint the members of this Task Force in consultation with ranking minority members and the Chairs of the Committee on the Judiciary, Natural Resources, and House Administration.
In the Senate, House leaders would have to consult with the chairs of the Energy and Natural Resources, Judiciary, and Rules and Administration committees on the appointments. The Task Force should provide its recommendations before the end of the year.
Without the admission of a territory as a state, a constitutional amendment – which is more difficult to achieve - would be required to allow its residents to vote for the president of the United States.
“The Biden-Harris administration and Congress should start by providing full federal voting rights for all Americans residing in the territories. As it stands, U.S. citizens in the territories are unable to vote for president and lack voting representation in Congress,” Grijalva wrote on February 1, along with Northern Mariana Islands delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan, in an op-ed published by Saipan Tribune.
Then, in a tweet, Grijalva’s office on the Natural Resources Committee expressed support for U.S. citizens residing in the territories to have “full voting rights.”
Grijalva said that “Bill ‘1’ does not close the door to address the future political status of these jurisdictions.” Previously, Grijalva indicated that he will hold a hearing on the island’s political status following the November 3, 2020 referendum, in which statehood won with 52.5 percent of the vote.
Two bills are expected to be referred to the Natural Resources Committee in the coming weeks, one in favor of statehood introduced by Puerto Rican Democrat Darren Soto (Florida) and Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, and another by Puerto Rican Democrats Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to create a Status Convention.
Grijalva announced a few days ago that next spring he will call hearings on the island’s access to federal resources and the reconstruction process following the catastrophe caused by Hurricane María.
But he made it clear that his Committee’s first public hearing dedicated to the territories will focus on climate change and will take place in March.
He indicated that his Office of Insular Affairs is also discussing possible amendments to PROMESA Act with the government of Puerto Rico to determine the next steps regarding that statute.