Puerto Rico Statehood Legislation Unveiled, Sparking Backlash (UPDATED)

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Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi’s legislation to outline a path to statehood is already sparking a backlash.

The “Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act,” which Pierluisi introduced Wednesday in Washington, would pose an up-or-down plebiscite asking whether voters want the island to become the 51st state. The bill then outlines a process for the U.S. Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state if the referendum succeeds. (Watch Pierluisi introduce the bill in the video below.)

“The measure establishes a clear and simple process for Puerto Rico to gain admission as a State of the Union,” Pierluisi said, according to El Nuevo Día.

Pierluisi has pushed aggressively for statehood since a November referendum showed that a slim majority of Puerto Ricans disliked their current relationship with the United States.

But opponents, who point out that statehood did not win a majority of the votes cast in November, are concerned with the terms of Pierluisi’s referendum, which would exclude the possibilities of limited sovereignty and independence from the debate.

“If this is a lie to the U.S. government, saying that the ticket that got 44 percent won, we’re going to reveal this,” Puerto Rican Gov. García Padilla said Tuesday, according to El Nuevo Día.

A non-binding referendum on Nov. 6 asked whether voters were satisfied with their current relationship with the island. Dissatisfaction won with 54 percent of the vote.

A second question asked whether the island should become a U.S. state, an independent country or a freely associated country -- a type of voluntarily limited sovereignty in close association with the United States. Keeping the status quo was not an option on the second question.

Statehood received the most votes, but Gov. García Padilla -- then on the campaign trail -- urged his supporters to cast blank ballots on the second question in protest. Statehood won only 46 percent of the votes if the 480,000 blank ballots are taken into account.

Limited sovereignty came in with 24.5 percent of the vote and independence with just 4.1 percent.

Pierluisi and his pro-statehood New Progressive Party have argued repeatedly since then that the vote amounted to a mandate for statehood, saying the blank votes shouldn’t count.

That interpretation has yet to gather much support in Washington. The White House budget submitted to Congress last month marks $2.5 million to hold a new referendum on Puerto Rico's status. The Attorney General must sign off on the terms of the referendum, according to the budget.

The issue of Puerto Rico’s status has dragged on for decades, amassing four inconclusive referendums since 1967.

This post was updated on Wednesday at 5 p.m. with additional information about the presentation of the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act. The results from the November referendum vote were also adjusted to conform with the certified election results.

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