• The San Juan Daily Star

Governor: An extraordinary session would include only ‘essential’ bills

Rep. José Aponte Hernández

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Monday that he is inclined to call an extraordinary session of the Legislative Assembly in December.

“I remain inclined to only include issues that I believe are essential to be addressed. It would be of short duration, it would not be of great length,” the governor said at a press conference. “I am coordinating with the legislative leadership to choose the days on which the Legislative Assembly would be authorized to meet.”

Pierluisi said the extraordinary session will not include matters likely to generate controversy.

“These are matters that are already advanced and that for some reason or another were not taken to a vote and should be taken to a vote quickly,” he said. “I will try to make them non-controversial, but necessary, and I will give the Legislative Assembly the opportunity to act. So this works.”

The governor added that an announcement will be made in the next few days.

Earlier in the day, New Progressive Party Rep. José Aponte Hernández asked Speaker of the House of Representatives Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez to call an extraordinary session of the island Legislature to hear House Bill 911 or its companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill (SB) 537, which seeks to implement the federal Law for the Prevention of Abuse and Preservation of the Family Unit, better known as the “Family First” law, in Puerto Rico.

The former House speaker noted that if the measure is not approved this year, the Family Department could lose over $800 million in federal funds aimed at assisting in cases of child abuse.

“This measure, that of Family First, was filed on August 18 and, despite several joint public hearings [in the House and Senate], the committees involved did not report on it,” Aponte Hernández said. “The speaker of the House has to change his position from not addressing any measure if an extraordinary session is called in the next few days. If the governor makes the announcement [calling an extraordinary session], I am sure that this bill would be the central axis of such a session and the speaker of the House has to begin the process, he cannot close without addressing this measure that makes possible the arrival of $800 million to help eradicate the terrible social evil that is the abuse of minors.”

The at-large lawmaker’s statements came after Hernández Montañez said in several interviews last week that the House has already addressed all the matters before its consideration during the ordinary session that just concluded.

“An extraordinary session is necessary because neither the House nor the Senate heeded the Family First measure, which addresses a very important situation: the abuse of minors,” Aponte Hernández said. “It is not fair that, due to the intransigence of a few, Puerto Rico loses $800 million in federal funds to cover expenses such as services to counter malnutrition in abused minors and the payment of social workers who handle these cases, as well as for training programs for these professionals, among others. These funds are tied to the implementation of Family First during this year.”

Since its filing on Aug. 18, the measures, SB 537 and HB 911, have received four joint public hearings in the House and Senate, on Oct. 6, 18 and 19 and on Nov. 3).

It was not clear if Family First would be among legislation to be addressed in an extraordinary session next month.

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