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CT senators back bill on Puerto Rico deciding its political status

Sen. Chris Murphy, speaking Wednesday at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., noted that Connecticut has the highest density of residents with Puerto Rican heritage of any state in the U.S.
Lisa Hagen
Connecticut Mirror
Sen. Chris Murphy, speaking Wednesday at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., noted that Connecticut has the highest density of residents with Puerto Rican heritage of any state in the U.S.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said there has been a “loud diversity” of positions about Puerto Rico’s political status among those in Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community. But he believes the island should decide its future and whether it is recognized differently than a U.S. territory.

Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., helped announce legislation on Wednesday that would pave the way for Puerto Rico to determine its own status through a binding referendum held in November 2025. Residents would be given the choice to vote on either statehood, independence or sovereignty of free association with the U.S.

“Many want to continue the relationship, some want independence, and many want statehood. There’s never been a consensus view here in Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community, but I’ve heard widespread support for this measure,” Murphy said in an interview.

“Even though people in Connecticut may differ on commonwealth or statehood status, most agree that the current uncertainty is not sustainable, and a long term decision needs to be made,” he added.

Both Murphy and Blumenthal argued that Puerto Rico’s current territorial status provides less help and resources to the island, particularly when it comes to disaster relief. They noted that Puerto Rico did not have power for months after Hurricane Maria, which they believe would not have happened if the island were a state.

“If Puerto Rico were a state, there’s no way that a president would be tossing towels instead of providing real relief to the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of natural disasters,” Blumenthal said, referring to when then-President Donald Trump visited the island to survey the damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017 and threw paper towel rolls into a crowd of survivors.

The uncertainty surrounding Puerto Rico’s status creates “political and real life consequences,” Murphy said, for both the island and his constituents in Connecticut of Puerto Rican descent.

More than 298,000 Puerto Ricans live in Connecticut and make up almost half of the Hispanic population in the state. Blumenthal said Connecticut has been the “beneficiary” of Puerto Ricans coming to the state following natural disasters and hurricanes.

The Puerto Rico Status Act previously passed in the House last December with support from all Democrats and 16 Republicans. But it did not receive a vote in the Senate before the end of the last session of Congress. The latest push in the Senate has 21 co-sponsors.

Earlier this year, House members reintroduced the bill, and on Wednesday, Connecticut’s senators joined a few of their colleagues and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón in trying to restart the effort in the Senate.

Admitting Puerto Rico as the newest U.S. state has previously prevailed in non-binding referendums in mostly symbolic votes. If the federal legislation passed, a future referendum would be federally sponsored.

Colón, who is Puerto Rico’s only non-voting member of the U.S. House, argued that the island’s 3.2 million people are treated with “indefinite second-class status.” Puerto Ricans are American citizens, but those living on the island cannot vote for U.S. president and they do not have the same political representation in Congress as states.

“We don’t need another sound bite,” said Colón, a Republican who personally supports statehood for Puerto Rico. “We need a sounding result that can be answered by Congress.”

The legislation’s path forward is still uncertain this session. Bipartisan support is needed in both chambers for it to get through Congress and to the president’s desk. President Joe Biden previously supported The Puerto Rico Status Act.

There has been pushback in the past to the bill since a referendum would not include an option for Puerto Ricans to vote on remaining as a U.S. commonwealth.

But lawmakers in Connecticut made it clear they would push for statehood if Puerto Ricans go on to vote for it.

“The people of Puerto Rico should decide their own destiny,” Blumenthal said. “But if the choice is for statehood, I will fight for it.”

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

This story was originally published by the Connecticut Mirror.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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