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House Committee Holds Hearings On Dueling Bills Regarding Puerto Rico's Potential Statehood

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) -- For the first time Wednesday, a House committee held hearings on two competing bills which could lead to statehood or independence for Puerto Rico.

When it comes to cultural pride, Puerto Ricans are strongly united, but much less so when it comes to the future of the island, currently a territory of the U.S.

On Capitol Hill, there are two approaches competing for support.

The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act authorizes a formal offer of statehood to be settled by Puerto Ricans in a simple yes/no vote.

Activist George Laws Garcia, with the Puerto Rico Statehood Council, wants Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.

"I think that it would be the thing that would empower us the most to reach Puerto Rico's maximum economic potential so that we can really contribute to the United States and retain our culture and identity," he told CBS2's Tony Aiello.

A competing bill is sponsored by New York Democrats Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Under the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act, people on the island would elect delegates to a convention with multiple options, including independence from the U.S.

"It certainly wants to consider other options to independence but still move self-determination along," said Dr. Carlos Vargas-Ramos, with the Center for PR Studies.

A non-binding referendum last year attracted just 55% of Puerto Rican voters; statehood narrowly won, 53% to 47%.

Bronx Congressman Ritchie Torres backs statehood, but says of the two competing bills in Congress, "The honest answer is that neither has momentum. We're caught in a deadlock."

"Puerto Ricans within the Democratic party are divided on the question of status," he added.

Democrats do feel some pressure to act while they still control both houses of Congress.

So far, only the statehood referendum bill is winning Republican support, including from Long Island Congressman Andrew Garbarino.

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