Darren Soto (GFR Media) (semisquare-x3)
Darren Soto (GFR Media)

Washington – Puerto Rican Representative Darren Soto has secured 15 cosponsors for his bill seeking to turn Puerto Rico into a state within 90 days, and that he will defend as he introduced it in late March.

"I will continue to promote the bill," said Soto, noting that the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Democrat Raúl Grijalva (Arizona), has already expressed his decision to hold a hearing on Puerto Rico´s political status in the near future.

Soto´s H.R.1965 - Puerto Rico Admission Bill is unlikely to become law, among other things due to doubts in Congress about the last Puerto Rican plebiscite, held on June 11, 2017 and in which statehood, amid the opposition´s boycott, got 97 percent of the votes.

Grijalva, for example, does not see in the 2017 plebiscite an indicator that Puerto Rico supports statehood, due to its low voter turnout (23 percent). Besides, any measure in favor of statehood faces the rejection already expressed by President Donald Trump and the apathy of the Senate.

But, Soto, Democrat Representative for Florida's 9th District, was an observer on the 2017 plebiscite and is convinced that such a vote is enough for Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state, as part of a process where changes to laws should happen in just 90 days.

The federal Representative, born in New Jersey to a Puerto Rican father and the first Puerto Rican elected to Congress in Florida, said that when he told El Nuevo Día last month that "alternative arrangements" will have to be made regarding status, he was referring to the plans that the government of Puerto Rico can draw to call a "Statehood: Yes or no?" referendum, and not to plan changes to his bill.

Previously, the Orlando Sentinel editorial indicated that after introducing his bill, Soto was in favor of a "Statehood: yes or no?" referendum. "Ultimately, that question must be answered," he was then quoted in an editorial stating that “Puerto Rico should be granted statehood – if the people want it.”

But, Soto said that the response was also based on the possibility that the Puerto Rican government decides to call a new status referendum and not on possible changes to his bill. "If Puerto Rico decides to hold a referendum along with the 2020 elections, I will respect that result. But, I haven’t asked for it or said it’s needed," Soto said Thursday.

Soto has recently started to receive endorsements for his bill. When he announced it on March 28, he had the support of Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González, Republican Representative Don Young (Alaska) and Democrats Rubén Gallego (Arizona) and Jamie Raskin (Maryland).

Commissioner González cosponsored the bill from the very beginning.Gallego, Young and Raskin signed it on May 2, the same day that Democrats Seth Moulton (Massachusetts), Albio Sires (New Jersey), Donna Shalala (Florida), Steve Cohen (Tennessee), Matt Cartwright (Pennsylvania) ), Alcee Hastings (Florida), and Sanford Bishop (Florida) also signed it. Although he is behind in the polls, Moulton is a Democratic presidential pre-candidate.

Last week, Republican Peter King (New York) and Democrats Juan Vargas (California) and Tony Cárdenas (California) joined the cosponsors group.

Soto is not imposing high expectations on his bill so far, however, he already talked to Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer (Maryland), who told him that he is in favor of the bill´s general concept. "Right now we are just asking ... for a hearing on the bill and status," Soto said.

The House Democratic majority has in agenda the vote on a bill in favor of Washington D.C. becoming the 51st U.S. state.

The pro-statehood bill for Washington D.C., introduced by Democratic Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton of the U.S. capital, is co-sponsored by 204 Democrats.

The hearing Grijalva projected on the Puerto Rican status would be the first of the Natural Resources Committee to focus on the island´s political future since June 2015.

A few weeks ago, the Republican spokesman on the Natural Resources Committee Rob Bishop (Utah) said he did not support Soto´s bill because it doesn't include a call for a new status referendum.

Last November, Bishop recommended Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to resume talks with the U.S. Department of Justice about the possibility that the Secretary of Justice – as provided on a January 2014 U.S. law that the Puerto Rican government ignored in 2017 – could certify the ballot and the educational campaign of an upcoming referendum.

Bishop said then that since the U.S. Department of Justice did not certify the process, the island´s political opposition could challenge the results of the 2017 plebiscite.

Representative Bishop is waiting for Commissioner González to introduce her own pro-statehood bill. Soto said he understands that González is going to file a bill related to a potential 2020 plebiscite, but that he just has general information as he hasn’t seen the bill.

Gonzalez's previous bill, which had the support of 32 Democrats and 26 Republicans, sought to turn Puerto Rico into an incorporated territory and create a Congressional Task Force to study necessary changes to laws for Puerto Rico to become a U.S. state.

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