• The San Juan Daily Star

Bill would add lottery draws to fund retirements of first responders

Rep. José González Mercado

By The Star Staff

In what is being lauded by lawmakers as a historic bipartisan agreement, New Progressive Party (NPP) and Popular Democratic Party legislators earlier this week took up House Bill 1074, which would create three new drawings of the Electronic Lottery to raise funds for the retirement systems that cover Puerto Rico’s police, firefighters, custody officers and paramedics.

“Our police officers deserve a more than dignified retirement. The commitment and dedication with which the men and women who wear the uniform of the police is the pillar of our society. That is why we were evaluating real and viable alternatives to help them,” said NPP Rep. José “Memo” González Mercado, the lead author of the measure. “This bill, a historic effort between representatives of different ideologies, is aimed at those purposes. Yesterday afternoon we requested, and so it was endorsed, that [the bill] be evaluated in this session that ends in mid-November. Our north star is to get this important piece of legislation approved during the coming weeks.”

The bill amends Section 4 of Law 81-2020, better known as the Law to Provide a Dignified Retirement,” for members of the Police Rank System, the Firefighters Bureau and the Custody Officials Corps of Puerto Rico, and the Medical Emergency Technicians, commonly known as paramedics, from the Medical Emergency Corps Bureau and the Municipal Emergency Medical System, including those attached to the Offices for Management of Emergencies, to order the Treasury secretary to carry out the three new drawings.

The additional rounds of the Electronic Lottery game, known as “Lotto Cash,” will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 2 p.m.

The bill also provides that if the income from those raffles exceeds what is necessary to cover the provisions of Law 81-2020, the excess would be used for salary increases to the aforementioned professionals, as well as improvements in working conditions.

The legislator for District 14 of Arecibo and Hatillo, who was a member of the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, has held a series of meetings with police officers, both active and retired, in recent weeks on their need for retirement assistance.

Among the authors of the measure are House Treasury Committee Chairman Jesús Santa Rodríguez, as well as NPP Reps. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló, Yazzer Morales Díaz, Joel Franqui Atiles, Wilson Román López, Ángel Morey Noble, Jorge “Georgie” Navarro Suárez, Ángel Peña Ramírez, José “Che” Pérez Cordero, Wanda del Valle Correa, Eddie Charbonier Chinea, Lourdes Ramos Rivera and Luis “Narmito” Ortiz Lugo.

“This Law (81-2020) has been in force since August of last year. However, the fiscal oversight board has not allowed its execution, claiming that the funds do not exist,” González Mercado said. “Well, with this measure come the resources to not only make it viable, but also make it our original intention, a source to assist our police, firefighters, custody officers and paramedics in retirement.”

Representatives of police organizations on Wednesday confirmed the possibility that police officers may go on strike this weekend over labor grievances including insufficient pension benefits, but denied that the organizations were behind it.

Gabriel Hernández, a retired police officer in New York, said in a televised interview that police officers were unhappy with the commitments made by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia. Police Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa said it was proposed that through an administrative order those agents who are retiring soon be allowed to work until the age of 62 so they could qualify for Social Security.

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