DORADO, Puerto Rico - Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott risks
losing Republicans' fragile support among Hispanics by neglecting a
bill allowing Puerto Rico to vote on statehood or independence, the
territory's governor said Tuesday.
"It really disappoints me that he has adopted a position that
shows a lack of sensitivity to the important issues of the Hispanic
community," Gov. Pedro Rossello said at a meeting of the Southern
Lott, R-Miss., was quoted in San Juan's El Vocero newspaper
Tuesday as saying there won't be enough time to consider the bill
before the current congressional session ends in October.
The Senate legislation would authorize a referendum to allow
Puerto Ricans to decide whether the Caribbean island should become
the 51st state.
Rossello, a pro-statehood Democrat, has pushed the bill in
Congress for 21/2 years. The measure stalled in the House of
Representatives in 1996 because of lawmakers' worries about whether
English should be the primary language of government and schools in
Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico if it becomes a state.
In March, a slightly different bill passed the House by one vote.
The Senate has held hearings on the bill but has put it on hold.
"I think that the issue requires debate, and there is not enough
time to hold that debate in the traditional way," Lott said Monday.
Several political issues stand in the way of a referendum.
Some states are concerned that they will lose House seats if
Puerto Rico becomes a state, and Republicans are concerned that any
lawmakers elected from such a state probably would be Democrats.
Also, two-thirds of Puerto Rico's residents receive some form of
welfare, and their per-capita income is half that of Mississippi, the
Frustrated by Senate inaction, Rossello has called a nonbinding
plebiscite for Dec. 13, when voters among the 3.8 million Puerto
Rican residents will choose statehood, independence or commonwealth
The governor said Tuesday that he will continue lobbying Congress
for a binding plebiscite.
"The Senate had just as much time as the House, and the House
passed a bill," he said.
Rossello was speaking at a meeting of governors from 17 U.S.
The group also urged the federal government Tuesday to stop adding
to its list of endangered animals, saying such action is hurting
The Interior Department wants to add 16 species to the 437 on the
Endangered Species List and is considering 24 others in 17 Southern
states. The governors said some of the species under consideration
were discovered recently, and scientists are still unsure how rare
they may be.