House Defeats English Only Amendment
to Puerto Rico Plebiscite Bill

March 4 A backdoor attempt to designate English the nation's official language was rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives during deliberations on H.R. 856, a bill governing the future political status of Puerto Rico.

By a vote of 238-182, the House rejected an English Only amendment submitted by Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.) in favor of a substitute measure, sponsored by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). The Burton substitute would make Puerto Rico subject to federal language legislation approved at a later date and would encourage the island's schools to foster English proficiency. But unlike the Solomon amendment it would impose no English Only requirements as a condition of statehood.

Rep. Burton, a supporter of English Only legislation, nevertheless rejected Solomon's proposal because he considered it a "killer amendment" designed to "drive a stake through the heart" of the Puerto Rico status bill.

H.R. 856 authorizes a plebiscite for residents of Puerto Rico, who will be asked later this year to choose between the alternatives of statehood, "commonwealth" status, or independence. The bill was adopted by a final vote of 209-208.


House Passes Puerto Rico Bill: Statehood Initiative for Island Gets One-Vote Margin
Washington Post, 5 March 1998

Support Develops in Senate for Puerto Rico Bill
New York Times, 6 March 1998


Solomon Amendment to H.R. 856,
United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act

Amendment No. 3: At the end of section 2, add the following paragraph:

(16) In 1996, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly declared that `the official language of the Federal Government is English'. According to the 1990 United States Census, less than 24 percent of the citizens of Puerto Rico speak English fluently. The enhancement of English as the official language of Puerto Rico is consistent not only with this statement of policy, but also with the preservation of our Nation's unity in diversity and the prevention of divisions along linguistic lines. Proficiency in the English language is necessary for all citizens to enjoy the full rights and benefits of their citizenship as guaranteed by the Constitution and to contribute most effectively to the Nation in all aspects. Conducting the business of Federal and State governments in English is the best way to promote efficiency and fairness to every citizen. Only proficiency in English can provide all Americans the enjoyment of the rights and benefits of full participation in the American economy and union.

Strike subsection (b) of section 3 and insert the following new subsection:

(b) Official Language: The official language of the Federal Government is English. The legislature of Puerto Rico has established a bilingual policy by making both Spanish and English official languages of Puerto Rico, but has continued to operate its government solely in Spanish, as the majority of the people in Puerto Rico are not proficient in English. In the event that the referenda held under this Act results in approval of a request to Congress that Puerto Rico be admitted to the Union as a State and the Congress approves such statehood, English will be the sole official language of all Federal Government activities in Puerto Rico and, unless otherwise provided by generally applicable Federal law, all communications with the Federal Government by the Government or people of Puerto Rico will be in English. This Act, the procedures authorized by this Act, and the possible accession of Puerto Rico to statehood do not create or alter any rights of a person to government services in languages other than English.

In section 4(a), strike paragraph (7) of subparagraph C of the referendum language and insert the following new paragraph:

`(7) English is the official language of all business and communication of the Federal Government of the United States and all communications with the Federal Government will be in English unless generally applicable Federal law provides otherwise. Puerto Rico, as a State, promotes English as the official language of the State government, courts, and agencies. English is the language of instruction in public schools.'.

Strike subparagraph (C) of section 4(b)(1) and insert the following new subparagraph:

(C) Additionally, in the event of a vote in favor of United States sovereignty leading to statehood, the President shall include in the transition plan provided for in this Act that the Federal and State governments implement programs and incentives to promote the acquisition and usage of English by the citizens of Puerto Rico, including but not limited to, teaching in English in public schools, the availability of fellowships and scholarships to increase the opportunities of the people of Puerto Rico to learn to speak, read, write, and understand English, and the provision of educational instruction in English to persons not in schools.


Burton Substitute for Solomon Amendment
APPROVED, 238-182


In section 3, amend subsection (b) to read as follows:

(b) Official English Language: In the event that a referendum held under this Act results in approval of sovereignty leading to Statehood, upon accession to Statehood, the official language requirements of the Federal Government would apply to Puerto Rico in the same manner and to the same extent as throughout the United States.

Add at the end of section 3 the following new subsection:

(c) English Language Empowerment: It is in the best interest of the Nation for Puerto Rico to promote the teaching of English as the language of opportunity and empowerment in the United States in order to enable students in public schools to achieve English language proficiency by the age of 10.

In section 4(a), in the referendum language for Statehood, amend paragraph (7) to read as follows:

`(7) Official English language requirements of the Federal Government apply in Puerto Rico to the same extent as Federal law requires throughout the United States.'.
In subparagraph (C) of section 4(B)(1), strike `(C) Additionally,' and all that follows through `(ii) the effective date' and insert the following:

(C) Additionally, in the event of a vote in favor of continued United States sovereignty leading to Statehood, the transition plan required by this subsection shall--

(i) include proposals and incentives to increase the opportunities of the people of Puerto Rico to expand their English proficiency in order to promote and facilitate communication with residents of all other States of the United States and with the Federal Government, including teaching in English in public schools, awarding fellowships and scholarships, and providing grants to organizations located in various communities that have, as a purpose, the promotion of English language skills;

(ii) promote the use of English by the United States citizens in Puerto Rico in order to ensure--

(I) efficiency in the conduct and coordination of the official business activities of the Federal and State Governments;

(II) that the citizens possess the language skill necessary to contribute to and participate in all aspects of the Nation; and

(III) the ability of all citizens of Puerto Rico to take full advantage of the opportunities and responsibilities accorded to all citizens, including education, economic activities, occupational opportunities, and civic affairs; and

(iii) include the effective date.