Legislature to repeal special election for delegates to lobby for statehood

By The Star Staff

The island Legislature will repeal Act 167 of 2020, which convenes a special election for next May to select delegates whose task will be to lobby the U.S. Congress for Puerto Rico to become a state, Rep. José Varela, vice speaker of the House of Representatives, said Thursday.

Act 167 calls for voters to select two special delegates to the U.S. Senate and four special delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives who will represent Puerto Rico in efforts to make the U.S. territory a state. During the Nov. 3 general election, a majority of voters chose the statehood option in a Yes-No plebiscite.

Varela has filed legislation that would create a constituent assembly to resolve the status question. Under the bill, a series of delegates will prepare and draft status definitions that are all non-colonial and non-territorial.

The impact of the bill on the island’s bankruptcy is unknown, but as a state Puerto Rico would not be able to file for bankruptcy because current federal laws do not allow it. While statehood received 52% of the vote in the November plebiscite, the vote has been criticized because turnout was low with only about 53% of registered voters participating.

The pro-statehood New Progressive Party (NPP), which spent millions to make the status vote a reality after U.S. Attorney General William Barr declined to appropriate funds for it, declared the vote a victory for statehood. The pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party disagrees. Varela hailed his own constituent assembly bill as the appropriate method for resolving the status question.

“This legislation calls for the selection of delegates who will define status options that are in alignment with U.S. Supreme Court precedent and international laws,” Varela said. “After consulting with Congress and the U.S. Justice Department, we would then put these options to a public vote.”

During a special legislative session in December following the status vote, NPP lawmakers passed Act 167 enabling the special election to choose the delegates that would pursue statehood before Congress.

“We are going to repeal that law,” Varela said. “That legislation was shoved through without any analysis.”

However, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi is likely to veto the bill.

The governor has said he will move forward with efforts to seek statehood for Puerto Rico in Congress, which is controlled by the Democratic Party. President-elect Joe Biden has said he is willing to work with Puerto Rico in its effort to become a state.

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