Bills filed to refine the regulation of public officials’ terms
By John McPhaul
Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago on Monday introduced Senate Bill 774 to establish the public policy of the Legislative Assembly on the continuity clause for officials whose term has expired in a given four-year term and those who will expire later.
For example, in the current four-year term, the chairman of the State Elections Commission, Francisco Rosado Colomer, and the women’s advocate, Lersy Boria Vizcarrondo, among others, have remained in their positions, the Senate president said, adding that the legislation would not apply in the case of the comptroller, Yesmín Valdivieso, because her appointment is covered in the Puerto Rico Constitution.
“A person who was confirmed for a term, leaving her [in place] indefinitely once the four-year term is over is not healthy for a government or for a democracy,” Dalmau Santiago said at a press conference. “Because otherwise, don’t put an end to them, put them indefinitely until the governor withdraws their trust. But if a term was legislated -- like a judge who is for 12 years -- why is he going to stay longer? With what authorization? Based on a continuity clause interpretation? Well, I am asking that far from interpretations, we are going to put it in writing. If you want to amend it to say quit immediately, quit after the next session, quit after the first three months. We will bring it to public hearings, we can amend it, whatever is reasonable to maintain a balance of power between the government’s institutions and the Constitution.”
The Senate president said that in the case of the chairman of the State Elections Commission, a case heard by the Supreme Court after having been filed by the Dignity Project electoral commissioner, Nelson Rosario, established that the continuity clause is valid and therefore would allow that an official stay in the position -- which has an expiration date -- indefinitely.
“Senate Bill 774 is intended to correct what has been the practice of the Legislative Assembly for years, by approving bills that provide for specific terms of the officials appointed by the governor, but that include provisions to extend the limits of the functions of his responsibility until his successor is confirmed,” Dalmau Santiago said. “With this measure, it is provided that the permanence of the official in his position may not exceed after the end of the next ordinary session; that is, the session following the one within which his term has expired. In this way, the chief executive is given a reasonable time to designate the substitute in the office, without undermining the constitutional power of the advice and consent of the Senate.”
Likewise, the Senate president said, it is provided “as an express and unequivocal will of the Legislative Assembly, that all officials who currently hold their positions based on a continuity clause will cease to hold the same after the next session of the Legislative Assembly, after the entry into force of this Law.”
In addition to the SEC chairman and the women’s advocate, the legislative measure would apply to the members of the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel, the executive director of the Government Ethics Office and members of government boards.
Two other bills (Senate Bill 808 and 809) are intended to establish a certain date on which an official confirmed by the Senate assumes the functions of his or her position in order to eliminate the uncertainty that exists around when the person formally occupies the position and thus establish the moment at which the term of his appointment expires, Dalmau Santiago said.