Lawmakers introduce Puerto Rico statehood bill that would avoid referendum

The fight for Puerto Rico’s statehood is back on again in Washington.

During a news conference outside of the Capitol Thursday morning, lawmakers in the United States House unveiled what they call a first-ever bipartisan proposal that would admit Puerto Rico to the union as the 51ststate without a referendum on the island’s territorial status.

“I’m excited about the possibility of finally ending this historic injustice,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), the bill’s sponsor.

With a Puerto Rican flag posted opposite the U.S. flag during the news conference, the hope of this group of lawmakers that one day the American flag will have a 51ststar.

Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s non-voting delegate to Congress, and a Republican, is introducing the bill alongside Soto, a Florida Democrat, Alaska Republican Don Young, Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego and Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin.

“Today, we’ve got an opportunity to achieve what is the bedrock of democracy and that’s equality,” Gonzalez-Colon said.

Statehood would offer the island territory’s 3.2 million U.S. citizen residents full rights and guarantees under the Constitution, something not granted to territories. The designation would also provide Puerto Rico full Congressional representation in both the House and Senate. Right now, territories only have a non-voting member in the House.

The bill is likely to be met with stiff opposition from pro-independence groups because it does not include a referendum allowing voters to formally say how they feel. But Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello says the support for statehood can be found in the 2017 referendum, in which 97 voters agreed with the move. However, a mere 23 percent of Puerto Rico’s eligible voters cast a ballot.

“3.3 million U.S. citizens are disenfranchised, don’t have the power to vote, don’t get equal resources and are treated with injustice that is simply unacceptable,” Rossello said.

This renewed “Fight for 51” comes at a key point in Washington. Democrats leading the House Natural Resources Committee, which Soto is a member, have already offered to hold a hearing on the issue. Other members are pushing for the District of Columbia’s statehood, as well, and often times states are admitted in groups of at least two or more.

But things could get a little tricky on the Senate side. So far, no one has introduced Puerto Rico statehood legislation in that chamber. However, we’re told there is some underlying support from Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio.”

“Puerto Rico’s colonial status is not working,” Soto said.

But getting the stamp for statehood from the White House still remains the biggest fight of all. President Donald Trump has said he will not approve Puerto Rico as a 51ststate.

Gaining statehood would go a long way toward helping Puerto Rico get more recovery funding now 18 months after Hurricane Maria. At that news conference, Rossello was asked about comments President Trump reportedly made this week that he doesn’t think the island should get more funding because he says they have already too many federal funds compared to other hurricane-hit states like Texas and Florida.

“The comments from the President show a lack of empathy. They’re inaccurate, they’re unjust,” Rossello said. “I feel that he has advisors who must be misleading him… We are not your adversaries, Mr. President. We are your U.S. citizens.”