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Latino Daily News

Thursday October 6, 2011

Puerto Rico: Legislation Will Allow Residents to Determine Island’s US Territory Status

Puerto Rico: Legislation Will Allow Residents to Determine Island’s US Territory Status

Photo: Puerto Rico Announces Legislation that Will Allow Residents to Determine Island's US Territory Status

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Puerto Rico Governor Luis G. Fortuño today announced legislation that will enable the people of Puerto Rico to determine whether or not they want to change the island’s current status as a U.S. territory.

“We must enable our citizens to resolve the most important and transcendental issue in Puerto Rico’s history, the island’s political status,” said the Governor.  “The island’s status is an issue that affects every aspect of our daily lives, including employment opportunities, health services, public safety, our children’s education and our very rights as citizens.”

The status referendum bill Gov. Fortuño will file tomorrow in the Puerto Rico legislature will provide for a two-step process, starting with an initial up or down vote on Aug., 12, 2012, on whether or not voters want to change the island’s current territorial status.  If a majority votes in favor of maintaining the current status, there will be no further action.

If a majority votes for a change, however, on Election Day 2012 (Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012), people will vote on their preference among Puerto Rico’s three non-territorial status options: statehood, independence or sovereign free association, Fortuño said.

As promised in Fortuño’s 2008 electoral platform, the Governor and the island’s sole elected representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, initially pushed in 2009 and 2010 for Congress to set into motion a fair process for resolving the island’s political status.  The Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, introduced by Pierluisi, was passed in 2010 by a strong majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, but was not voted upon by the U.S. Senate.

“Every day, it becomes more and more evident that the lack of resolution to the status issue is the primary obstacle we face in order for Puerto Rico to make further progress,” the Governor said.  “The current status provides us with neither the means nor the powers that are needed to achieve the growth we need in the years ahead.  That’s one thing we all agree on,” said the Governor.

Gov. Fortuño emphasized that the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status outlined three political status alternatives – statehood, independence or sovereign free association – that are recognized as Puerto Rico’s non-colonial, non-territorial status options, and which will be presented to voters if the referendum proceeds to the second stage.

“This process is equitable, fair and transparent; and will give all our voters the opportunity to vote for the status option they prefer,” said Fortuño.

The Aug. 12 up or down vote on Puerto Rico’s political status will take place the same day Puerto Rico voters will also cast their ballots on a constitutional amendment to shrink the size of the island’s Legislature by more than 25 percent.  Fortuño promised action on both status and legislative reform in his 2008 campaign platform, and the measures enjoy the support of the majority of lawmakers in the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives.

“We are fulfilling our pledge to cut down to size one of the costliest Legislative Assemblies in the entire United States,” Fortuño said.  The Governor indicated that the final version of the island’s legislative reform has already been approved by the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, and is expected to be approved by the Senate within the next week.

Puerto Rico’s legislative reform reduces the overall size of the territory’s legislature from 78 seats to 56 seats, a more than 25 percent reduction.  If voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment to reduce the Legislature, the Puerto Rico Senate would shrink from 27 to 17 members, while the size of the House would be reduced from 51 to 39 members.   

“From the beginning, our administration has had the courage to take on Puerto Rico’s toughest issues, and do what’s right by our people,” said Fortuño. “In less than two and a half years, we’ve gone from having the worst fiscal situation of any state or territory in the Nation, to one of the best,” he pointed out.  “We’ve also delivered on our promise to provide the people of Puerto Rico with the biggest reductions in individual and corporate income taxes in history,” he added.

“Puerto Rico can wait no longer. The moment has arrived for our people to decide on amending the Constitution in order to have a smaller, more efficient and less costly Legislature, as well as to act decisively to resolve Puerto Rico’s status issue once and for all,” the Governor said.