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
(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
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;
(iii) include the effective date.