STATEMENT BY MR. MCCOLLUM OF FLORIDA
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I want to thank you for the opportunity to give a statement as part of your hearings on H.R. 856, the United States-Political Status Act. Chairman Young, I appreciate your efforts on behalf of this legislation and I am proud to be an original cosponsor. It is certainly my hope to see progress made on this legislation in the 105th Congress .
I have a natural interest in Puerto Rico, as there is a significant Puerto Rican community in my district. However, I have also had the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico in my capacity as the Chairman of the Crime Subcommittee on drug interdiction matters. I will actually be returning to Puerto Rico in about a month for hearings with the Crime Subcommittee. Meeting people both in my district and in Puerto Rico has given me the opportunity to hear many points of view on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood. Although there is a range of views, it is clear that we should allow the people of Puerto Rico to decide their fate.
As we knows, H.R. 856 would require a plebiscite in Puerto Rico where the people of Puerto Rico would have the ability to decide the future of their beautiful island. The choices would include Puerto Rican independence, U.S. statehood or maintaining the status quo of commonwealth government under the authority of the U.S. Congress. A clear majority , as opposed to only a plurality, would be needed for definitive action. If statehood or independence were chosen, Congress would then have to affirmatively enact legislation in order to pursue the option. If commonwealth status receives a majority, or if no majority is achieved, then the plebiscite is revisited four years later.
Mr. Chairman, under a plebiscite conducted pursuant to this bill, I am convinced the people of Puerto Rico would choose statehood. Puerto Rico is part of the United States. For years the rich Puerto Rican culture has been part of what is uniquely American. Yet, without statehood, something is missing. Every school child in America is taught about the 50 states. Sure, there are territories, but they are never as firmly implanted in the mind as being integral to the whole when thinking of the United States. I want to see the day when every school child learns about 51 states and thinks Puerto Rico is as much a part of the American family as Texas or Minnesota. Puerto Rico will be stronger for this. Our nation will be stronger. However, my opinion would not matter in the plebiscite and I believe the people of Puerto Rico need the option to choose.
The commonwealth status was never intended to be a permanent status. I realize that some will try to claim otherwise, but I respectfully disagree. Furthermore, we must remain flexible in improving upon the status quo. If a majority of Puerto Ricans want statehood, then we should facilitate that.
Certainly there is the possibility that the voters of Puerto Rico will choose to keep the commonwealth status. That is fine, and there will be chances in the future to change this decision, but the relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. has been changing of late. It is time to reassess the wants and needs of the island, even if it is still the desire to remain a commonwealth.
Assuming statehood is the path chosen I believe that Puerto Rico would enjoy increased investment and economic growth as investors would be assured of economic and political stability in the region. Under statehood, Puerto Ricans would be guaranteed all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, support for such efforts as fighting the war on drugs would be easier to achieve. No longer would some think of Puerto Rico simply as the gateway for drugs to the U.S. mainland. Instead, people would think first (as they should now) of the horrors the drug scourge is bringing to the people of Puerto Rico - equal partners in all we share and all we do as a nation.
Independence would not bring these gains, but there may be advantages that the people of Puerto Rico would rather have. Regardless, we need to work on this situation to bring resolution to the issue. Past plebiscites have not been especially helpful, mainly because the unconstitutional option of an enhanced commonwealth was offered. This time, a clear choice put to the voters in Puerto Rico should provide a clear result.
One thing I strongly oppose, Mr. Chairman, is any amendment to this bill conditioning statehood on Puerto Rico adopting English as its official language, This is a divisive and destructive proposal. English should be the official language of the United States. But no state, be that New York, California, Florida or Puerto Rico, should be singled out and told it must adopt an official language. If and when Puerto Rico becomes a state, and if and when English becomes the official language of the Federal government, it would apply in Puerto Rico, just, as it is in other 50 states. The sovereign rights states of Puerto Ricans should be respected in the same manner as all states already admitted into the Union.
Mr. Chairman, I want to commend you for the patience you have had with this legislation. I remember that things got a little difficult with it at the end of the 104th Congress when it looked like movement was possible. I strongly urge you to report H.R.856 favorably to the full House in the very near future. I will give you my full support in getting it scheduled for House floor action again. Again, thank you for holding these hearings.