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A 51st state? Congress takes up Puerto Rico statehood

A bill in the House of Representatives would give Puerto Rico's 4 million residents a vote on whether they want to transition to statehood or independence.

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From left, Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Chatz, Gov. Luis Fortuno and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierlusi, take part in a news conference on Capitol Hill where they spoke in support of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act.

Harry Hamburg/AP

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The House on Thursday took up legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico's 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence.

The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future.

Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction.

If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote and people would choose among three options: statehood, independence and sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate to the House, said that while the island has had votes on similar issues in the past, Congress has never authorized a process where Puerto Ricans state whether they should remain a U.S. territory or seek a nonterritorial status.

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