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House approves bill that would let Puerto Ricans vote on relationship with U.S.

By Jim Abrams
Friday, April 30, 2010; A03

The House on Thursday approved legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico's 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence.

The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future. It passed 223 to 169 and now must be considered by the Senate.

Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction.

If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote, and people would choose among four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

Pedro Pierluisi (D), Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate to the House, said that although the island has had votes on similar issues in the past, Congress has never authorized a process in which Puerto Ricans state whether they should remain a U.S. territory or seek a nonterritorial status.

At a news conference with Pierluisi, Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño (R) said: "The American way is to allow people to vote, to express themselves and to tell their elected officials how they feel about their political arrangements. For 112 years, we haven't had the chance . . . to fully participate in one way or another in the decisions that affect our daily lives."

In the last referendum, "none of the above" led with 50 percent of the vote, topping other options including statehood at 46.5 percent and independence at 2.5 percent.

Opposition to the House bill included Republican concerns about the consequences of Puerto Rico -- where Spanish, as well as English, is an official language -- becoming a state. Republicans said Puerto Rico would get six seats in the House, possibly at the expense of other states.

-- Associated Press

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