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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Dignity Project legislators sue governor over pandemic EOs

The Dignity Project legislators contend that the executive orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic violate the principle of separation of powers and fundamental individual rights.

By The Star Staff

Dignity Project lawmakers Joanne Rodríguez Veve and Lisie J. Burgos Muñiz have sued Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia in San Juan Superior Court, arguing that executive orders to stop the spread of COVID-19 are unconstitutional.

The legislators insisted that the executive orders handling the COVID-19 pandemic violate the principle of separation of powers and fundamental individual rights.

Burgos Muñiz, a freshman member of the island House of Representatives, called on legislators to join the claim to protect the constitutional rights of the Puerto Rican archipelago.

Included as defendants in the suit are Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López, Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés and Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández.

The lawsuit establishes that the repercussions of the orders “reveal the need for each branch of government, in this case the Executive and Legislative Branches, to fully understand the environments of their constitutional framework of power, and exercise it with respect to the maximum of their power” and their capabilities, especially in times of emergency.

“Everything indicates that imposing vaccination against COVID-19 in a compulsory way as a condition to go to study, travel, have access to various services and, as if that were not enough, work, is a wrong interpretation of the delegation of powers contained in Law 20-2017,” Burgos Muñiz said.

“We are seeking to assert the faculties and powers that have been granted to us as a legislative branch,” said the at-large freshman senator Rodríguez Veve, who added that the suit is not about her opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine. “It is important to specify that this exceeds the two of us in our personal character, but that it goes beyond our own positions.”

Juan Manuel Fronteras Suau, an attorney, noted that Article 2 Section 19 of the Puerto Rico Constitution establishes that the Legislature will have priority to legislate on certain matters when the health, life and common well being are at risk.

“The executive and the state power of the governor by provision of the Constitution is limited to complying with and enforcing the laws according to Article 4 of the Constitution of Puerto Rico,” Fronteras Suau said. “The Constitution says nothing about the power that the governor may have to take his own action in relation to health, life or common well being.”

The Legislature approved House Bill 515 to limit the governor’s powers, but Pierluisi vetoed the bill.

“By vetoing this bill, [the governor] reveals the motivation in his actions to go against the Constitution,” the lawyer said. “This express veto says that, in cases of emergency, subordinating the actions taken by the state to the political-partisan discussion that takes place in the Legislature is a danger for the country.”

The second basis for filing the lawsuit is that “it is impossible for the country to continue operating for more than two years under decrees and states of emergency that violate the separation of powers,” Fronteras Suau said.

Third, by activating a state of emergency under Law 20-2017, Law 76 of 2020 is also activated, the lawyer said. The latter law establishes that states of emergency cannot last more than six months.

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