(H.R. 2499) On an amendment requiring that ballots in a referendum held in Puerto Rico (in which Puerto Rico to choose statehood, independence, continuing its current commonwealth status, or sovereignty in "free association" with the United States) be printed in English as well as Spanish
This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) requiring that ballots in a referendum held in Puerto Rico be printed in English as well as Spanish. The amendment also provided that if Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would be subject to any federal English language requirements (such as establishing English as the official language of the United States). Currently, no such federal requirement exists. The underlying bill required Puerto Rico to hold a referendum on its political future in two stages. First, voters would choose between maintaining the status quo, and changing the nature of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. Specifically, voters could choose between the following two options: “(1) Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status. If you agree, mark here XX. (2) Puerto Rico should have a different political status. If you agree, mark here XX.”
If a majority of voters chose the second option – to change Puerto Rico’s political status – a second referendum would be held. That referendum would allow Puerto Ricans to vote for independence, statehood, “free association,” or continuing its current commonwealth status. If Puerto Rico chose to freely associate with the United States, it would essentially become a self-governing entity, but not an independent nation.
(The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is currently a territory of the United States. Since it is not a state, Puerto Rico lacks representation in the United States Senate. While Puerto Rico does elect a delegate to the House, that delegate lacks the full voting rights enjoyed by House members from the 50 states.)
Burton urged support for his amendment: "This is an amendment I think that everybody will embrace…So we are talking about making sure that everybody who votes…will see it [the ballot] in both English and Spanish. We are also pushing to promote English more than it has been in the past. I think this is an amendment that everybody should agree with."
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) urged opposition to the amendment: "I think it [Burton's amendment) should be soundly defeated, but I am happy he brought it because it just demonstrates the imperialist nature. Here we are in the empire, the Congress of the United States, plenary powers over Puerto Rico, dictating what language they have to use."
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) argued the amendment was gratuitous: "It [Burton's amendment] says that the plebiscite [referendum] will be carried out in English. So we don't need that because it is already in the bill. The second provision [of Burton's amendment] is really meaningless. That is the one that talks about Federal language requirements. We know there is no Federal requirement in this country as to English, even though 30 States have adopted that. There is no official one from the United States. There should be, but there isn't."
The House agreed to Burton's amendment by a vote of 301-100. 187 Democrats ands 114 Republicans voted "yea." 47 Democrats and 53 Republicans voted "nay." The most progressive members were nearly evenly split on this vote: 17 members voted "yea," while 18 voted "nay." As a result, the House agreed to an amendment requiring that ballots in a referendum held in Puerto Rico (in which Puerto Rico to choose statehood, independence, continuing its common wealth status, or sovereignty in "free association" with the United States) be printed in English, as well as Spanish -- and providing that Puerto Rico would be subject to any federal English language requirements (such as establishing English as the official language of the United States). Currently, no such federal requirement exists.