Existing generations have grown up learning about America and its 50 states and their capitals, but could a day come when there's another star added to our flag? It's certainly a possibility. On June 27, lawmakers introduced a piece of bipartisan legislation that suggests Puerto Rico should become a state as early as 2021.
“This is the first step to open a serious discussion to determine the ultimate political status of Puerto Rico,” Jenniffer González-Colon, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner who wrote the bill said to NBC News. “To sum everything up, this is about equality."
The bill, called the Puerto Rico Admission Act of 2018 was presented by González, a nonvoting member of Congress, and is co-sponsored by 36 other members of Congress. González says that this bill is "the first step" in beginning a serious dialogue about the island's status in regards to the rest of the nation. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898. According to The Hill, it's been almost 60 years since Congress acted on an admission bill like this.
One supporter of the bill, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, suggested she's also backing the bill to balance out the power scale.
“The hard truth is that Puerto Rico’s lack of political power allows Washington to treat Puerto Rico like an afterthought, as the federal government’s inadequate preparation for and response to Hurricane Maria made crystal clear," Murphy said. Nine months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, CBS reports that over 2,000 people still don't have power and that it may be another month until it's restored.
At a press conference announcing the bill, González said the piece of legislation will require a task force of nine members of Congress who will be in charge of looking into the changes necessary for Puerto Rico to be added as a state. Then a report will be submitted to Congress and the president about "laws that would need to be amended or repealed" in order for it to become a state, CBS News explained. According to NBC News, while lawmakers go through this process, Puerto Rico would move from territory to incorporated territory.
Although residents of Puerto Rico are considered American citizens, they aren't allowed to vote in presidential elections and only have one congressional representative with "limited voting powers," CBS News noted.
If Puerto Rico becomes an incorporated territory, residents on the island would need to start paying federal income tax, but wouldn't be entitled to the full rights that come with being a state. Currently, residents pay payroll taxes, but aren't able to elect members to Congress or vote for president.
"In the past this issue has been very hard to move forward," CBS News reported Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello said. "No longer do we want ambiguity. We want clarity. Either here in Congress you are with us or you are against the people of Puerto Rico."
However, not everyone agrees Puerto Rico should become a state just yet. Research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Carlos Vargas-Ramos, told NBC News that now is not the best time for such a heavy piece of legislation to be considered.
"It’s late in the term, before midterm elections. I don't see how this can get passed." Vargas-Ramos said, going on to explain that lawmakers won't have time to move the bill through the House of Representatives and Senate before midterm elections.
During a meeting with other governors and President Trump last week, Governor Rossello made it clear that Puerto Rico doesn't want to be a territory anymore.
"We want to be state. We want equal treatment." Rossello said.
This isn't the first time that a bill calling for Puerto Rico's statehood has been introduced. The piece of legislation was originally introduced in January of 2017, but it never made it to the House of Representatives or Senate floor.