Rob Bishop (horizontal-x3)
Rob Bishop (GFR Media)

Washington - Yesterday, Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, said that she will wait to see if the New Progressive Party (PNP) government calls for a federally sponsored “statehood yes-or-no” referendum before she introduces a new federal bill in favor of statehood. 

"Our strategy will be consistent with how the plebiscite moves on the island," González said.

González considers that the referendum should be conducted as soon as possible, but stated that it will be up to the Governor and the Legislature to decide whether to hold it in 2019 or 2020, along with general elections. "We are going to have meetings to decide this," said Gonzalez, who plans a meeting of the PNP leadership.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and the president of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, Carlos "Johnny" Méndez, showed their inclination to work on a new “statehood yes-or-no” referendum legislation in San Juan, whose ballot and educational campaign could be endorsed by the US Department of Justice.

The outgoing leadership of the House Committee on Natural Resources, headed by Republican Rob Bishop (Utah), recommended that the government of Puerto Rico to legislate a “statehood yes-or-no” referendum in San Juan, through a federal law in force since 2014 that proposes to allocate $ 2.5 million to the Puerto Rico State Election Commission (CEE, Spanish acronym) to help fund a referendum on the island's status.

If that were the case, the government of Puerto Rico would have to accept that federal Justice decides if the electoral ballot – with any status alternative – complies with federal legal, constitutional and public policy regulations.

Although the government of Puerto Rico began the process for the 2017 plebiscite, they did not wait for the final certification.

For Bishop, “the right way” is to resume that process. "The last plebiscite needed the approval of the US Department of Justice and it did not have it," said Bishop, in a brief interview with El Nuevo Día.

In his letter to the governor and the legislative leadership – after a referendum in which statehood obtained 97 percent of the votes, amid a boycott from opposition parties that generated the lowest turnout ever in a status referendum (23 percent) – Bishop and González along with Doug LaMalfa (California) and Don Young (Alaska) warned that "the inability of the Department of Justice to provide a timely blessing of the 2017 vote has allowed opponents to contest its results."

They also send a letter to Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, asking him to assist the Puerto Rican government.

For Bishop, Commissioner González bill 6246, which he co-sponsored but did not hold a hearing to discuss it in the House Committee on Natural Resources, can be a good model to give continuity to the debate if the referendum is certified by the US Department of Justice.

But, Bishop –who retires from Congress in 2020 and will be in the minority in the next session that starts in January–, said that this is a decision that González will have to make in the future.

Although Bishop did not take the bill to a voting session, the 6246 bill seeks that Puerto Rico becomes an incorporated territory, as a possible step towards statehood.

The bill also proposed to create a Congress Task Force to study the changes to laws needed for  the Island to become the US 51 state -through another legislation-. The ambitious intention was for Congress to admit the island as a state by January 2021.

In San Sebastián, Governor Rosselló said that he is open to the possibility of resuming the discussion with the federal Justice to regulate a new referendum on the island and to push forward a pro-statehood in Congress.

For Rosselló Nevares, if  it is “statehood yes-or-no” referendum, then he thinks it should not take too long (for the federal Justice) to validate that ... “It has to be a process with a real result for Puerto Rico," he said.

Journalist Ricardo Cortés Chico collaborated with this story.

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