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House lawmakers introduce bill to end Puerto Rico's territorial status

House lawmakers introduce bill to end Puerto Rico's territorial status
House lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that would end Puerto Rico's territorial status, allowing the state to vote on whether to become a state, gain independence or become sovereign while associated with the U.S. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

May 19 (UPI) -- Lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would trigger a referendum to undo Puerto Rico's territorial status.

The Puerto Rican Status Act was introduced by a negotiating group led by House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. It would allow Puerto Rican voters to take to the polls to choose between statehood, independence or sovereignty in free association with the United States.

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It is the first status proposal in history to not include an option to extend Puerto Rico's existing territorial status.

"The Puerto Rican people do not want to be a colony, and the United States of America does not want to be a colonialist power," Hoyer said at a press conference Thursday. "This legislation seeks to address that issue."

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Hoyer led the negotiation of the legislation along with Reps. Darren Soto, D-Fla., Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon, R.

It combined competing bills including one by Soto and Gonzalez-Colon that advocated for statehood and another by Velazquez and Ocasio-Cortez who pushed for a self-determination convention.

"After months, months, of sincere discussions and negotiations we can proudly announce that we have reached an agreement on a path forward to solve once and for all the island's political status," Gonzalez-Colon said.

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Under the bill, if Puerto Ricans select statehood, they would continue to be citizens indefinitely, while the independence options would maintain U.S. citizenship for existing citizens but those born in independent Puerto Rico would be subject to U.S. immigration laws.

The free association option would see the children of Puerto Ricans who are also U.S. citizens maintain U.S. citizenship for the length of the compact between the two countries.

Puerto Rico has held multiple referendums on its status since 2012, with 53% of voters on the island casting ballots in favor of statehood in a 2020 vote.

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"On multiple occasions, the people of Puerto Rico have voted for statehood but Congress never moved to resolve the issue of status," Gonzalez-Colon said. "This is the first time we will have a plebiscite that is binding for Congress and only with non-colonial options."

The bill is likely to face an uphill battle in Congress because if Puerto Rico, which leans Democratic, is accepted as a state it would be eligible for two Senate seats and five seats in the House.

In order to pass, the bill would require at least 10 Republican votes to pass the filibuster threshold, which two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have said they would not move to abolish.

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