Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party may not wait for another referendum before pushing forward with its bid to make the island the 51st state.
The island’s pro-statehood Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi told the U.S. Congress Wednesday that he’d submit “stand-alone legislation” to address Puerto Rico’s status. His office told The Huffington Post that Pierluisi plans to file the bill by mid-May.
It’s still not clear what exactly that legislation will entail.
The White House budget submitted to Congress last week included $2.5 million to hold another referendum on Puerto Rico’s status. Pierluisi said Wednesday that his legislation would “complement President Obama’s request.”
“The only way to resolve the island’s status is through statehood or national sovereignty,” Pierlusi told Congress. “Puerto Rico cannot resolve its status by maintaining the same undemocratic status that my people have endured since 1898 and that they soundly rejected in November.” (Watch Pierluisi deliver his comments below.)
But a committee formed by his party to deal with the status question recommended foregoing another referendum and simply submitting legislation asking Congress to make Puerto Rico a full-fledged U.S. state. The PNP will vote on the recommendation on April 29, according to Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día.
The two-part, non-binding plebiscite held in November energized the statehood movement, though the idea failed to win a majority of the votes cast.
The first question asked whether voters wanted to maintain their current relationship with the United States. Some 52.4 percent of voters said they did not.
The second question asked whether voters wanted Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state, an independent country or a freely associated sovereign state -- a type of independence in close alliance with the United States. Remaining a U.S. commonwealth wasn’t an option on the second question.
Statehood won the largest share of votes, but more than 480,000 voters cast blank ballots on the second question, leaving statehood with only 44.9 percent of the total.
Support for the idea may have grown since then. A poll released this month, conducted jointly by Suffolk University and the University of Turabo in Puerto Rico, found that 70 percent of the island’s voters favored statehood, El Nuevo Día reports.
The White House recommendation for a new plebiscite didn’t seem like much of a vote of confidence for the referendum held on Nov. 6, though it acknowledged that a majority of the island’s voters aren’t happy with the status quo. The budget item says the U.S. Attorney General would have to approve the plebiscite’s terms.
Complicating matters, Pierluisi doesn’t see eye-to-eye on the statehood issue with the island’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla. A proponent of keeping the status quo, García Padillo called for his supporters to cast blank ballots on the second question in the Nov. 6 referendum.
García Padilla said last week that he’s waiting to see what the White House will do before taking action on the status issue.
Puerto Rico has remained a U.S. commonwealth despite voting on its status four times since 1967.