WASHINGTON - The House approved legislation yesterday 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. It passed 223-169 and now must be considered by the Senate.

Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but living 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 four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.

Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's nonvoting 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.

"The American way is to allow people to vote," said Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno at a news conference. "For 112 years, we haven't had the chance . . . to fully participate in one way or another in the decisions that affect our daily lives."

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