Status Plebiscite Bill Clears Puerto Rico Senate

Eva Llorens (Caribbean Business) reports that the Puerto Rico Senate approved legislation that paves the way for a two-question status vote to be held on Election Day next November. She writes:

The bill, which cleared the upper chamber in an 18-9 vote after a long debate, is slated to go back to the House for a vote on Wednesday. Several New Progressive Party (NPP) lawmakers who backed the bill, including Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Senate Vice President Margarita Nolasco, said they would issue explanatory votes since they oppose having the status issue on the Election Day ballot. The minority Popular Democratic Party delegation in the Senate voted against the measure.

Gov. Luis Fortuño and legislative leaders announced amendments late Monday that pared the proposed two-stage status plebiscite to a single ballot on Election Day.

The first question would be: Do you want to maintain the current territorial status?

The second question would ask voters to pick between three status choices: statehood, independence or sovereign commonwealth.

The amendment to condense the vote to a single day stemmed from concerns raised during public hearings on the measure. The House had already approved a two-stage vote with the first round in August 2012 followed by an Election Day round. The lower chamber now has to consider the amendment to hold both votes on Election Day. [. . .] The bill eliminated all references to commonwealth as a colonial status since the United Nations has declined to declare Puerto Rico as a colony of the U.S.

Sen. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who is the PDP’s gubernatorial candidate, reiterated he won’t allow the status plebiscite to divert attention from problems including the island’s high unemployment rate, rising crime, sub-standard public school system and excessively high electricity costs. He said the vote was designed to make statehood win. “What is known as commonwealth, they describe as ‘current territorial condition.’ What is not commonwealth, they call ‘sovereign commonwealth.’ But it is really free association,” he said.

Rivera Schatz responded by showing a copy of a PDP document titled “Sovereign Commonwealth” that was approved by the party in 2009. He said the status definition in the bill was drawn from the document. [. . .]

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