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Rivera Schatz: Referendum will be held with or without Sessions’ approval

By on February 19, 2017

SAN JUAN — The June 11 political-status referendum will be held with or without the approval of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, maintained Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz on Sunday.

The New Progressive Party (NPP) vice president insisted that the approved law is clear and precise regarding the plebiscite’s implementation, and establishes the corresponding steps if Sessions hasn’t responded by April 16.

“This is a well-thought out and studied legislative measure and we have considered every possible scenario so the referendum takes place, and to begin a real and definitive decolonization process for Puerto Rico,” said the senatorial leader in a radio interview (NotiUno 630 AM).

Regarding the possibility of Sessions’ disapproval of the plebiscite, or for the attorney general to have remained unresponsive by the scheduled date, Rivera Schatz reaffirmed that the referendum will be conducted.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

The Law for the Immediate Decolonization of Puerto Rico –which Rivera Schatz introduced as Senate Bill 51– was approved at the beginning of February by Governor Ricardo Rosselló. It proposes a local political status plebiscite on June 11, in which voters will select between non-territorial options, statehood or independence/free association.

The consultation to Sessions aims to link this referendum to a federal law from 2014, which allows the  U.S. Justice Department to allocate $2.5 million to finance the plebiscite, as long as the attorney general determines that the definitions included in the electoral ballot and the educational campaign fulfill constitutional and legal norms, as well as President Donald Trump‘s public policy.

Meanwhile, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) leaders, such as former governors Rafael Hernández Colón and Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, have been campaigning in Washington, D.C. for federal legislators and officials to reject the referendum based on its alleged unconstitutionality. They argued it excludes a sizable portion of Puerto Rico’s voters because it omits the current commonwealth as a viable status option in the ballot.

Rivera Schatz repeatedly asked PDP legislators to present non-territorial status options, but the party didn’t deliver during the legislative period. PDP Sen. José Nadal Power had proposed the “sovereign commonwealth” and the “developed commonwealth,” but these didn’t meet the Senate president’s criteria.

See also: Acevedo Vilá pleads Sessions to reject status referendum

Earlier today Acevedo Vilá announced he addressed a letter to Sessions, in which he called for the attorney general to reject the plebiscite because it was incongruous with the federal administration’s policies.

Along with Hernández Colón, Acevedo Vilá defends the idea to include the “sovereign commonwealth” in the ballot, outside the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bestows ample powers to Congress on its territories, a fact reiterated by the federal government in the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa), which lead to the creation of the Fiscal Oversight & Management Board which controls the island’s finances.

The former governor and candidate for the PDP presidency argues there is nothing unconstitutional or illegal in that status formula.

The State Elections Commission, which estimates the plebiscite’s cost to be around $8 million, is already developing estimates for the costs of ballot productions and programming of the electronic machines that will be used in the referendum.

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